Notebook: Coach expects Antoine Winfield, Kevin Williams to return
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But coach Leslie Frazier said on Friday at the NFL scouting combine he has spoken with both veterans about their future and expects them to return for another season.
"Both of those guys were valuable to our success as a team this past year, with their leadership and also their play," Frazier said. "I'm looking forward to having both of them back."
Winfield, 35, bounced back from a season derailed by injuries to play 89.8% of the snaps and was productive before a broken hand hampered him down the stretch.
Williams, 32, played 71.1% of the snaps and remains the Vikings' best player at the three-technique defensive tackle position despite finishing with a career-low 45 tackles (23 solo).
Both players are in decline -- especially Williams, who is scheduled to make $7 million in each of the two remaining years on his deal and likely will be approached about a pay cut. Winfield is due $7.25 million in the last year of his deal and could be approached, too.
There is no rush, though, with the Vikings comfortably under the salary cap. And to hear Frazier tell it, the belief is they'll be back one way or another.
"Antoine had a terrific season for us," Frazier said. "I know I couldn't have predicted he would play as well as he did or stay as healthy as he did, which was great for our team. He's indicated to me that he wants to come back next season. We're expecting that to happen. Kevin has indicated he wants to play again next season. We're expecting that to happen."
Frazier repeated general manager Rick Spielman's sentiments when asked about Percy Harvin's status, saying the Vikings have no intent to trade the volatile receiver and pointing out repeatedly how important Harvin is to the offense.
"The fact that he's under contract -- he's a part of our team," Frazier said. "And he's excited about being a part of our team from my conversations with him. And that's where things are."
Trade speculation has been rampant in recent weeks, but NFL sources have said Harvin's current contract demands leave the Vikings with little chance of getting a sufficient return.
Harvin, 24, has one year and $2.9 million remaining on his rookie deal and privately made clear last summer he expects a new deal. He returned to Minnesota once after an ankle injury landed him on injured reserve on Dec. 5 to take his exit physical and meet with Frazier.
"He expressed to me that he was healthy ... and that he was doing well," Frazier said. "He was going to go home and spend some time with his family and ... he was doing fine. So, that was encouraging."
Reconstructing the position
It's no secret the Vikings will be looking for help at receiver whether Harvin returns or not, and the NFL Draft is one avenue for getting it.
Workouts here begin with offensive linemen, tight ends and special teams on Saturday. Then, receivers work out along with quarterbacks and running backs on Sunday.
"You're always looking for speed at the receiver position," Frazier said. "So, that's a criteria, along with the fact that he has great hands. That's another part of it. Being able to get a little yardage after catch. That's a part of it as well. ...
"We need an all-encompassing guy, a guy who can run by some people, who can make the hard catch for us if he's in a contested situation, but hopefully, also can get us some yards after catch. And he's a guy who has the smarts to be able to understand game plans from week to week."
Frazier, Spielman and others here have pointed out the depth in this year's class of receivers, although early projections suggest this could be the rare year none are taken in the top 10.
Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson widely is regarded as the best in the class. A handful of others could be options when the Vikings are on the clock at No. 23 overall.
They've played the past two seasons with little production from the split end position and know they can help quarterback Christian Ponder's development by upgrading talent on the perimeter.
"You would think that would be a plus for us," Frazier said. "When you run the ball as well as we do, if we can get that home run guy outside, we think we'll just improve our entire offense and our team as well."
The Vikings knew Adrian Peterson had a sports hernia soon after he suffered the injury in a Nov. 11 victory over Detroit, Frazier said. They let him keep playing in part because he wasn't running the risk of further damage.
"There were times I'd be telling (running backs coach) James Saxon on the headset, 'Watch him on this carry. See if we have to take him out,'" Frazier said. "I'd talk to (Peterson) on those Fridays when he would get in some practice time and say, 'What do you think?' He'd say, 'Coach, I'll be ready. I'll be ready.'
"But I couldn't always tell if he was going to be ready and you'd go through warm-ups in pregame and it was like, 'Man, he's going to be OK' -- but in the back of your mind, you're just wondering can he finish. And then he'd break a long run and you're like, 'He's different.'"
Peterson finished the regular season with 2,097 rushing yards -- 8 yards shy of Eric Dickerson's single-season record -- on 348 carries (6.0 average). Frazier pulled him only once, late in the Vikings' upset win at Houston on Dec. 23.
One week later, Peterson ran for 199 yards as the Vikings knocked off Green Bay at the Metrodome to wrap up their NFC wild-card playoff berth.
"He just had pain when he was raising the leg up," Frazier said. "With the sports hernia, it's like that. When you run or sprint, that's where you're going to get the catch. ...
"His ability to block out that part of it and still perform at the level he performed at, it's just amazing. It's not an area where you're going to be taking shots or anything like that. It's just a matter of your tolerance."
Peterson even played in the Pro Bowl on Jan. 27 in Honolulu before undergoing surgery the following week. He ran only five times in that game, though.
"That was something he had his heart set on and felt like he could protect himself," Frazier said. "The coaches over there, they did a good job, too. They didn't stress him, so it worked out good."
The Vikings exercised rollover options on their assistant coaches' contracts, putting them under contract through 2014, Frazier said.
"All our coaches are coming back and they're excited and pumped up," Frazier said. "We think we have a chance to have a real good team again in 2013."
A replacement for assistant special teams coach Chris White, who left for the University of Iowa, could be finalized as soon as next week.