One of the reasons that a lot of the national football media are picking the Vikings to be a playoff contender in 2008 is centered on one simple factor. Ask any offensive coordinator what a goal is from one game to the next and they'll fall into lock step with the universal response – establish the running game.
For the last couple of years, achieving that goal has been almost impossible for Vikings opponents. Few teams can boast the success the Vikings have had against the run the last two years, and much of that credit is given to the defensive tackles. When a team can send both of its starting DTs to the Pro Bowl, it's pretty clear that they have been successful in that regard. Kevin Williams and Pat Williams have become the gold standard of the NFC in the regard, but many believe the best is yet to come.
There has been little questioning that Kevin Williams is one of the dominant tackles in the game. Selected to three of the last four Pro Bowls, Williams has come a long way since being the butt of jokes as part of the Vikings' inability to swing a draft-day trade that allowed Jacksonville and Carolina to leap-frog them on that draft day. When then-head coach Mike Tice went before booing fans at Winter Park after the team selected Williams, he told fans to wait until they saw what Kevin could do. Hindsight being 20/20, Tice was right.
Williams has the ability to be a sack leader, having notched double-digit sacks in his first two seasons. He hasn't been able to reach those lofty numbers in the three years since, but some believe he will be the biggest beneficiary from the acquisition of Jared Allen. Because Allen will demand attention to the outside and Pat Williams almost automatically requires a double-team, Kevin Williams could be the odd-man-out, which means he might face more single coverage than he has the last couple of seasons and could again be a disruptive factor in the backfield.
Pat Williams is a different story. A veteran who was somewhat anonymous to casual Vikings fans when he signed as a free agent from Buffalo three years ago, he has given the Vikings a run-stuffing presence in the middle of the line that the team hadn't had since the days of Jerry Ball. With the combination of size, speed for a man his size and brute strength, Big Pat requires a double team on nearly every play or else he can collapse the pocket when singled up. His presence has been felt significantly, being named to the Pro Bowl the last two years after previously being snubbed for his entire career. With the combination of the Williams Wall, the Vikings have become a dominant run defense that has been able to get many teams to abandon the run completely.
While the Williams Brothers are a dominant duo, there was some concern heading into the offseason about depth. Spencer Johnson left via free agency and created a void that needed to be filled. The Vikings are confident they have addressed that need. Fred Evans, who was signed last year after being released by Miami, is the only incumbent of the backup group and has a leg up on being the top backup in 2008. The team went the free-agent route to sign Ellis Wyms to be a potential replacement for Johnson and used a draft pick to take powerful Florida State DT Letroy Guion to provide a young burst of energy to the lineup.
While the Vikings are the envy of the league with their starting defensive tackles, the depth they have been provided with the additions of Evans, Wyms and Guion gives them an even deeper group than the one that led the league is rushing defense in 2007 – making this position one of the strongest units on the Vikings' roster heading into 2008. With teams likely unable to consistently double-team both Kevin and Pat Williams – as was the case much too often last year – a very good unit could get significantly better this year.
Positional Analysis: Defensive Tackles
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