EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings aren’t happy with the hit from San Francisco offensive lineman Joe Looney that injured five-time All-Pro defensive tackle Kevin Williams on Sunday, despite the NFL ruling the hit wasn’t illegal.
Williams avoided a major injury after Looney dove into his legs in Sunday’s third preseason game and could possibly be ready for the regular season after he suffered a bruised knee and posterior capsular strain after his right knee hyperextended Sunday when Looney turned back and lunged at an unsuspecting Williams’ knee.
The league ruled the hit wasn’t illegal, even though it’s putting an emphasis on eliminating similar peel-back blocks this season, and Williams’ teammates took issue with the play, and the NFL’s ruling, Tuesday.
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“I have a problem when we talk about player safety in this league and we have a clear case of a guy intentionally trying to hurt a guy and we do nothing about it, and we pat him on the back and say it’s OK,” defensive end Jared Allen said.
The league ruled Looney’s hit was legal because he wasn’t turned to face his own goal-line, as the new rule stipulates. Looney did hit Williams from the front, but Williams didn’t see the lineman before the hit occurred during the third quarter of Sunday’s third preseason game.
The Vikings felt Looney intentionally went low on Williams and called the play dirty. The players felt Looney should have tried to engage Williams high and not dive at his knees.
“If you’re going to go down that route (of player safety), you’ve got to be consistent with every player, offense, defense, no matter what number is on the back of your jersey,” linebacker Chad Greenway said, calling the play “ridiculous.”
Greenway added: “The reality is I just don’t feel like he’s being protected. But he’s going to be sitting out as long as he needs to prepare and that’s going to hurt out defense and hurt our team. He was a leader and he’s a guy who’s been in every situation you can be in and (it’s) just something he shouldn’t have to deal with.”
While the hit might have been legal within the rules of the peel-back blocks, Minnesota’s players felt Williams should have been treated as a defenseless player because he didn’t see the block coming.
“If he hits Kevin in the chest and something happens, that’s part of it,” Allen said. “But when you intentionally duck and go to a guy’s knee, it has no bearing on the play. We talk about player safety, you talk about wanting to protect us, how is Kevin not a defenseless player? So, for me that’s absurd, it’s absolutely absurd. It’s just not what you do.”
Allen was fined $21,000 last year for hitting Lance Louis of the Bears and ending his season. Louis wasn’t ready for the block after an interception and Allen hit him high and knocked him to his feet.
In 2008, Allen was subject to what he thought was a cheap shot to the knee by a lunging Gosder Cherilus of Detroit. Like Looney, Cherilus wasn’t disciplined by the league.
Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier said the team is hopeful it will have Williams, its longest-tenured player and a six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, back for the regular-season opener on Sept. 8. He called Williams “day-to-day” for now and Williams didn’t practice Tuesday.
“There is a chance we’ll get him back for that game; we all have our fingers crossed, hope that that will happen,” Frazier said.
Frazier said he’s thankful Williams came away without ligament damage and knows the injury could have been much worse. Frazier said he talked to the league about the play.
“They concur,” Frazier said. “It’s not the type of play they want in the game for player safety reasons. There’s a big emphasis regarding player safety and that play really endangers our players’ safety. It’s not something that the league wants. It’s not something that any of us want as we are trying to make the game safer for our players.”
The league doesn’t like the play, but it’s upholding the rule.
“It was definitely dirty,” linebacker Desmond Bishop said. “I feel like there’s no room in the game for that kind of play. It’s not my decision what happens, how he gets reprimanded for that, but it was definitely dirty. Not good.”
Looney, a second-year pro who spent last year on injured reserve, reportedly tried to reach out to Williams after the game.
“I didn’t try to take a dirty cheap shot at him,” Looney said to CSN Bay Area. “I was just trying to finish my block. I meant no harm by the block at all.”
After the game, Williams told the Star Tribune: “I was just upset that I’m getting cut 11 years in (the NFL) from a guy who I don’t even know. I figure between the pain and the fact he cut me when I wasn’t looking was my reaction.”
Looney is trying to make the San Francisco roster as a backup lineman. Bishop said the type of play isn’t a result of players late in a preseason game trying to make a roster. Instead, it’s about the intent.
“Nah, that’s just a dirty play,” Bishop said. “I think that’s just an attitude of an individual. I don’t think it has anything to do with being late in a game, trying to make the roster because that wouldn’t help you make the roster. That would get you cut faster than whatever.”
Allen added: “My problem with this play is intent. He ducked down to hit him in the knee. It was intent to hit him in the knee and if the league can’t see that, they can fine me for this because that’s absurd.”