MANKATO, Minn. – The first step for the Minnesota Vikings in preparing for life without longtime stalwart defensive tackle Kevin Williams was in April’s NFL Draft when they selected the likely replacement for the five-time All-Pro.
Minnesota felt too strongly about Sharrif Floyd when he fell into their laps with the No. 23 pick in the draft. The succession plan for the 32-year-old Williams suddenly took shape. Floyd, the talented tackle out of Florida, is the heir apparent to Williams, but the Vikings are hoping Floyd also can help keep Williams at his best.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier is hoping Floyd proves ready to offer rotational depth behind Williams, saving wear and tear on Williams.
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“I think with the snaps that he will get we will hopefully get even better play than we got out of him a season ago with having a young guy who can take some of those snaps off of him,” Frazier said from training camp Monday. “The number of snaps Kevin gets will be high-quality snaps. He can still play and play very well. A lot of what he does is based off his experience. He is one of the smartest football players you will ever be around and he is able to use that to be effective on the football field. So if we can get what we are expecting from Shariff, that is going to help take some of those snaps off of him and we should get more quality from him over time. That should be good for our team.”
Frazier is still counting on one of his defensive leaders but is hoping fewer snaps can keep Williams fresher and productive. Frazier is hoping he isn’t forced into playing Williams as much as he has played in the past.
“You know we kind of have to see how the other guys come along, but if you had 30 to 35 good snaps out of Kevin that would be terrific, and that means that someone else is getting 20 to 25 snaps that we are splitting between one or two other guys,” Frazier said. “I’m sure he is more than capable of playing 50-60 snaps but I think it will be better for our football team if we can get those snaps between 30-40 for our team and better for us overall.”
Frazier said Williams will still be a contributor on early downs as well as third-down or passing situations, but the team is laying out plans for reduced snaps.
Williams, who is likely entering his last season with Minnesota after restructuring his contract in the offseason, said he still prefers to play a large role and has been preparing as if he’ll take his usual snaps. After being a consistent force in the middle, he said it would be “weird” to play less.
“I can’t say, I don’t know,” Williams said when asked if he thinks less snaps would allow him to be fresher.
“We’ll see. I don’t see that happening for me, but I’m not the coach. I just have to do what the coaches say, whether I like it or not.”
Guion back at practice: Defensive tackle Letroy Guion was practicing Monday after suffering a left elbow injury during Saturday’s practice.
Guion practiced with a brace on his left elbow but appeared to take all of his normal repetitions during practice.
“It looks like he’s going to be fine,” Frazier said earlier Monday. “He’s going to practice today, so we’re hoping there’s nothing extensive to what happened a few days ago. He’s looking forward to practicing.”
Back in pads: Minnesota had its first practice in pads of training camp on Monday. The Vikings had Sunday off after practicing on Friday and Saturday without pads.
Of course, the first practice in pads added a bit more intensity to practice and the players seemed a bit more lively.
“Now you’re playing football,” safety Jamarca Sanford, who wore a microphone for Monday’s practice said. “Last couple days, it was more 7-on-7 and just flag football. But like (Adrian Peterson) was talking today, ‘We playing football now.’ He got to talking a little smack, you know, ‘We’re getting into our stuff today.’ I told him, ‘Yeah you’re right, it’s football now.’ It’s all fun and games. The first day you’re always excited to be in pads. Like I said, you’re back to playing football.”
It’s the first look for coaches to also evaluate players with pads and with a more physical edge, though the Vikings didn’t do any tackling on Monday.
“You want to see how guys respond,” Frazier said. “If they are willing to tackle, how good of a tackler they are and at the same time, if you are an offensive guy, we want to see if they can break some tackles, make people miss and find out a little bit of what they can and cannot do and hopefully just keep getting better at some of those things were we may be deficient at in that first time when we’re live.”