Led by Kevin Williams, Vikings' D-line soaking up a possible last run
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - The four starters along the Minnesota Vikings' defensive line have been together for each of the six seasons since 2008 - and they're beginning what could be the last four games together on Sunday at the Baltimore Ravens.
The leader of them all, defensive tackle Kevin Williams, was voted the Vikings' 2013 Ed Block Courage Award winner by his teammates this week.
"The defensive line has always been a tight knit group and it's continued to be that way," Williams said. "Now that I'm the oldest guy, I try to show the other guys that that's how we run the group. We're a close knit group so when we get on the field we're having fun and playing with your brothers and your best friends for life."
Defensive ends Jared Allen and Everson Griffen, along with defensive tackles Fred Evans and Williams are four of the five defensive linemen who started this season on the final year of their contracts. The fifth, defensive end Brian Robison, was extended on a four-year, $28 million deal in October.
Allen, the Vikings' highest-paid player in the final year of a lucrative deal that he received as part of a trade from the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008, said Williams was instantly a friend of his when he joined the team five years ago.
"[Williams] was actually my translator to understand what Pat [Williams] was saying," Allen said. "Took me a year to understand what Pat was saying, now I speak fluent Pat Williams. But no, Kevin was great."
The Vikings already restructured Williams' deal this offseason, trimming his salary by $2.5 million and deleting the 2014 season entirely. But the longest tenured player, Williams has spent all of his 11 seasons in Minnesota and hasn't backed down from his claim that he wishes to retire in purple.
"It's been a tremendous honor to have [Allen] come in and join forces with me and Pat at the time and now it's me and him and Brian Robison and Letroy [Guion] and Fred [Evans]," Williams said. "We're a close group of guys, since I've been here and since I've been drafted."
Despite the pay decrease, Williams' playing time has only decreased from 71 percent in 2012 to a little more than 67 percent this season. The unexpected exodus of defensive tackle Christian Ballard made the Vikings even more thin along the interior as rookie defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd has played just 38 percent of the snaps at Williams' three-technique position.
Williams' durability is unheard of in the modern NFL in terms of the wear and tear linemen undergo. After he hyperextended his knee following a low block in an August preseason game, Williams missed only the season opener before returning to play six of every ten snaps in Week 2.
But the 33-year old has no plans on being a diva now after he's missed just three games due to injury in his 11-year career.
"Been battling with that cut block I took in the preseason all year," Williams said. "But once training camp starts anyway in the NFL, no one is healthy anyway. You know me, I'm not one to make excuses and lean back on: 'I didn't do A, B and C because I had this going on.' I do what I need to do during the week to get there on Sundays and then I try and play and give it all I got."
Williams and Allen have played 89 games together since the start of the 2008 season and there's no guarantee either player remains after December ends.
"Obviously it goes through your mind. But like I've said a million times this year, no sense thinking about it now. I don't know where [Williams'] life is going to go, I don't know where mine will be," defensive end Jared Allen said. "We have four weeks left, that's for sure."