The sight of Kevin Williams back on the Vikings practice field was welcomed by everyone involved with the Vikings, but perhaps nobody was happier to see Williams back in his familiar No. 93 than teammate Fred Evans.
Evans has played his the last six years of his career lining up next to Williams. He has been a mentor. He has been a friend. He has been a teacher. He's been like family.
While the team missed his contribution on the field, Evans and the other defensive linemen got the "next man up" opportunities to be on the field more because of Williams' absence. However, Evans had mixed emotions about it. He got more playing time, but it came at a price – both professional and personal.
"I love playing with Kevin because he is so good at what he does and every game is a learning experience for me because he's there," Evans said. "You never want to get excited about getting more playing time because of injury. With Kevin out last week, we got more plays on the field, which is what every player wants, but not like that. We missed him out there."
Evans didn't mince words. Every team has its share of leaders. Adrian Peterson is a leader on the offense. Greg Jennings is expected to be a leader in the wide receivers room. John Sullivan is the leader of the O-line. Jared Allen is a leader. Chad Greenway, same story.
But for the defensive linemen, Williams is the grizzled veteran who has earned as much respect as any player on the team – regardless of which side of the ball they play.
"He's our leader," Evans said. "He's an amazing defensive tackle and one of the greatest in Vikings history, which is saying something for a team that has had so many great defensive tackles over the years. Whenever he's ready to get back out there we will be glad – I mean GLAD – to have him back out there."
For those who don't work directly with the defensive line, Williams' impact is more based on what he does between the white lines on Sunday. For Evans, it has spilled over into his personal life. Williams has made a profound impression on Evans that will last long after both of them are former NFL players.
"He's impacted me both on and off the field," Evans said. "He's a big brother to me. He showed me how to be a better man and father. On the field, he's a great defensive tackle. It's not always about being the strongest or the fastest. He has impeccable technique and conducts himself like a professional. He's honestly just one of the best people I've ever known."
Whether Williams will be good to go Sunday at Chicago will be determined over the next couple of days, although Williams was optimistic about his chances on Wednesday after going through a non-padded practice.
The standard rule with a knee or high ankle injury is that the true measure of recovery isn't fully known until the next day after he tests the injured body part. Upper-body injuries don't tend to suffer setbacks in practice, simply because players with shoulder, rib or concussion injuries they're returning from don't get impacted in that area by design. But when it comes to a knee or an ankle injury, a player can feel fine on the first day of returning to practice only to have the affected body part swell up like a balloon the next morning.
We'll know more with each passing day whether Williams will return to his familiar under-tackle spot in the middle of the Vikings' defensive front. Right now, everyone is being optimistic about a strong return. But perhaps nobody will be happier to see him back than Evans, because the Vikings missed him badly in Week 1.
"There's no question we missed him a lot," Evans said. "He is the heart of this defense. He has been a fixture here for so long, even when things go bad, you can always think, ‘We'll be fine. We've got Kev.' We can't wait to have him back."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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