The Williams Wall as we have always known it may be on the verge of getting dismantled.
For five years now, Pat and Kevin Williams aka the Williams Wall have combined to make the interior of the Vikings‘ defensive line the most impenetrable in the entire league. However, for the second straight season, Pat has broken down heading into the playoffs, leaving the Vikings scrambling to fill the considerable literal and figurative hole left by his absence.
Last year, a broken shoulder sidelined Pat for the final two games of the regular season, and for the team’s home playoff loss to the Eagles. This year, it’s Pat’s elbow and not his shoulder that is causing the problem. He was inactive for Monday night’s loss to the Bears, and may sit out the season finale against the Giants.
The Vikings were able to fill in last week with Jimmy Kennedy, who has done an able job this season when given the chance to rotate in. However, Kennedy is also hurt himself, and likely will not be able to go against the Giants.
This forces the Vikings to turn to Fred Evans, the man who took Pat’s place when he was lost at the end of the 2008 season. Evans has dropped on the depth chart in ’09, thanks to Kennedy’s emergence, and been inactive several times this season. Letroy Guion would also likely see playing time if Pat and Jimmy are indeed unable to suit up.
Obviously, for the Vikings, the only concern right now is how to get through the final game and the postseason. Eventually, however, they will have to address the nose tackle issue long-term.
That may mean a diminished role for Pat Williams, one of the defining defensive players of recent Vikings history.
Williams is 37 now, and will turn 38 midway through the 2010 season, which happens to be the last year of his contract. Williams has already begun speculating on the end of his career, saying if the Vikings win the Super Bowl, he will gladly retire. Whatever happens, it seems almost certain that Williams will not play beyond next season.
Given the way Pat’s last two seasons have ended, the Vikings may not feel confident counting on him going into 2010.
The signing of Jimmy Kennedy, a high draft pick in 2003 who never lived up to his potential, was the Vikings’ way of covering themselves in the event that Pat and Kevin were forced to serve their suspensions for violating the banned substance policy. That suspension never materialized, but Kennedy may still serve as the Vikings’ best insurance policy at defensive tackle.
Kennedy is 30 years old, and though he is nowhere near as dominating as Pat can still be when healthy and well-rested, he has been a solid contributor, and may have a whole late-blossoming career ahead of him. He certainly has the talent to be a good player, and with Kevin Williams garnering so much attention alongside him, should have opportunities to make things happen.
Kennedy has already seen plenty of playing-time in 2009. If Pat does return for 2010, the Vikings may elect to decrease his role even more, in hopes of having him healthy for the late season, which would mean an increased role for Kennedy. And if Pat does for some reason elect to call it a career after this season, Kennedy could step in as the full-time starter.
There is no guarantee of course that Kennedy would be the answer. The Vikings could go defensive tackle in the draft, or they could sign a free agent. Or perhaps someone else, Evans or Guion maybe, would emerge as Pat’s heir apparent.
The point is, the way things are going, it looks like the Williams Wall as we’ve come to know and love it will never be the same again. When the wall finally does come down, it will be the end of a memorable era in Vikings football.