MANKATO, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings accelerated their rebuilding project this year with an aggressive purge of expensive veteran starters.
Kevin Williams, though, didn’t worry.
Sure, he’s one of only eight players currently on this 90-man roster who are 30 or older, and he’s set to make a hefty $7 million this season. But the 10th-year defensive tackle finished 2011 with a flurry. With five sacks in the final seven games, he showed the team and the league if not himself that he can still be a productive if not disruptive player in the middle of the line.
“I’m a Viking until otherwise,” Williams said, when asked about the offseason turnover that included the release of Steve Hutchinson, Anthony Herrera, Cedric Griffin and Ryan Longwell. Free agents Remi Ayodele, E.J. Henderson and Visanthe Shiancoe weren’t re-signed. “Whatever happens happens.”
Williams can become a free agent next year. If that is the end of his employment in Minnesota, a decade after he was drafted in the first round out of Oklahoma State, well, he’s not sweating that, either.
“I’m pretty sure I can find a team,” he said.
Williams, cornerback Antoine Winfield and punter Chris Kluwe are the only three players on the roster who joined the team before Brad Childress was hired as head coach in 2006. Winfield, who’s 35, and quarterback Sage Rosenfels, at 34, are the only others older than Williams. But nobody has a longer tenure with the Vikings, now that tight end Jim Kleinsasser has retired.
And he earned himself some more time by the way he played down the stretch last season. He had arthroscopic knee surgery before the lockout and developed plantar fasciitis in his foot during training camp. Then there was the two-game suspension he served after his three-year fight with the NFL over the fairness of his positive drug test that showed a banned diuretic he insisted he didn’t know was in the weight-loss pills he was taking.
As if he’s slipping past an opposing guard into the backfield, Williams this season can finally avoid all those questions about StarCaps.
“That’s like a blessing,” he said. “I’m glad we have that out of the way.”
Williams not only had all five of his sacks last year in those final seven games, he tallied 11 of his 14 tackles for loss in that span.
“The foot injury and the issues that he dealt with in the beginning of the season probably got him off to a little bit of a slow start, but you definitely saw him pick up some momentum down the stretch,” defensive line coach Brendan Daly said. “He still has the ability to be an explosive playmaker as a ‘3’ technique, which is hard to find. He’s done it for a long while, and he still has those prominent flashes that you’re looking for.”
That makes, as long as he can keep it up, playing defense next to him and behind him much easier.
“He’s as good of a professional as I’ve ever been around. Great player, great guy, great teammate,” outside linebacker Chad Greenway said. “He’s to me the cog that makes our ‘D’ front and our front seven really go. When he’s on, we’re on. He’s just kind of that guy. Obviously we all have a role in that, but look at the tape when we’re playing hot football. It’s because he’s really getting it done.”
Williams wasn’t willing to label his performance last November and December a resurgence, even though he recorded only one sack during the period between Nov. 15, 2009, and Nov. 20, 2011.
“A few kinks to iron out, but there’s no excuses. I was still trying to do my best,” Williams said. “Maybe it just hit home the last part of the season and became more evident.”
He’s biased, but his ability has always been evident to defensive end Jared Allen.
“The guy has so much power. He’s so good on his hands and his feet. He approaches things kind of the same way I approach them. That’s why I think we get along so well,” Allen said. “My goal isn’t to come out here and win training camp MVP. Our goal is to get ready for Jacksonville at the home opener.”
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