Sometimes the best intentions to give veteran players a break are overridden by the lack of a legitimate backup plan.
Last year, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier talked about limiting the number of snaps cornerback Antoine Winfield would take in order to make him more effective during his time on the field. Turned out Winfield was too good to keep off the field when healthy.
Despite being 35 years old, Winfield played 91 percent of the team's defensive snaps, easily the most among the team's cornerbacks and surpassed only by rookie safety Harrison Smith (92 percent) and linebacker Chad Greenway (99 percent). Whether because of injury or inexperience, no other cornerback played more than 57 percent of the snaps.
Turn the page to this year's training camp. Frazier is talking about limiting the number of snaps defensive tackle Kevin Williams will get in 2013. The reasoning is similar to the Winfield comments. Williams will turn 33 on Aug. 16 and has been a starter since being a first-round draft pick in 2003. The idea is to get higher quality per snap.
"I think with the snaps that he'll get, you're going to hopefully get even better play than we got even a season ago having a young guy that can take some of those snaps off of him," Frazier said, referring to one of this year's first-round draft picks, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd. "The number of snaps that he gets, they're going to be high-quality snaps. He can still play and play very well.
"A lot of what he does is based off his experience. He's one of the smartest football players you'll ever be around, and he's able to use that to be effective on the football field. If we can get what we're expecting from Sharrif and he's able to use that to be effective on the football field … that's going to help take some of those snaps off him, so we should get more quality over time."
Frazier said ideally Williams would play 30 to 35 snaps per game this season.
So how does that compare to last year? If he played 35 snaps a game, that would translate to 560 snaps over a 16-game season. Last year, he played in 808 snaps, or 71 percent. If Frazier's plan this year comes to fruition, Williams' snaps would be reduced by about 30 percent.
Williams knows what the plan is and admitted Floyd should help Frazier accomplish his goal.
"We added some good pieces in the draft with Sharrif to help us with some time on the line and we just really, we really tried to upgrade through the draft like last season," Williams said. "Those guys helped so much last year on defense and it was huge for us. I think we're going to be a lot better in the run and the pass this year. I'm expecting us to do better in both facets."
In typical Williams fashion, he is rolling with the punches. He agreed to take a significant paycut – he was scheduled to make $7.5 million over each of the next two seasons but will now make $5 million this year and voided the 2014 portion of his contract.
He says he realized in his first few years in the league that it was a business.
"You think it's all fun and everyone – I mean it is fun still – but at the end of the day you're working for a billion-dollar company and each team is their own little corporation," Williams said. "So you're still under that umbrella of the NFL and it's still business."
Despite voiding the 2014 season on his contract, Williams doesn't want this (his 11th season) to be his final one.
"I definitely want to play a couple more years, but I'm going to take it year by year," he said. "Who says I might be done after this year? In the back of my mind, I think I have a couple, two, three more years to play."
In his ideal world, those final years would come with the Vikings, the team that he has been with since 2003.
"That's always the dream. How often does it happen in this league? How great would it be to finish your career with one team?" he said Monday. "I think Ray Lewis just did it, but how many guys do you see that are actually able to do it? I would be a good accomplishment to go on your list.
"… I definitely want to play more football. Where I'm going to be, we'll see come January."
How realistic are reduced snaps for Williams?
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