Notebook: When will Madieu Williams return?

Opinions vary on when Vikings safety Madieu Williams will be able to return from a sprained neck he suffered in training camp. Plus, find out about the possibilities defending Steve Smith and how Aundrae Allison explained a strange play covering a punt last week.

While head coach Brad Childress said that Madieu Williams was "on track" when asked about his return for the Vikings' Week 4 game against the Tennessee Titans, a league source told Scout.com's Adam Caplan that Week 6 might be a realistic possibility for the free safety. The key for Williams is to get cleared for contact, and he hasn't received that clearance yet.

On Thursday, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said he hasn't been given a recent update on Williams' targeted return.

"Our doctors and trainers are really more on top of that than I am. I have been told that maybe the fourth game of the season, way back in training camp, and I am still believing that that may be the case if he doesn't have a setback," Frazier said. "So I'll wait on our trainers to give me a heads-up on what needs to happen and whether or not he is on track and if we can look forward to having him back for that fourth game."

Williams was on the field after a walk-through practice this week receiving further instruction on the Vikings defense, but he hasn't been anything more than an interested bystander during practices. He has declined to comment twice this week.

Williams sprained his neck early in training camp and didn't play in any of the Vikings' preseason games. In fact, he has yet to suit up for a game of any sort for the Vikings after they signed him to a six-year, $33 million contract when he was an unrestricted free agent in March.

The Vikings currently have the league's 24th-rated pass defense, according to yards surrendered, and Williams' veteran presence could help improve on that. Rookie second-round pick Tyrell Johnson has been starting in Williams' absence, but Frazier said Johnson is getting better.

"He is really making improvements, becoming more comfortable with what we are asking him to do, moving around a little more fluid than in the first game of the season," Frazier said. "Hopefully the same thing will happen in the third game – he'll be a little bit more fluid, he'll be more involved and make a few more plays for us. But he is improving. Every chance he gets out there you can see that he is improving. (He is) still a rookie. There are still a few things that you have to live with, but he is improving."

TOUGH TO DEFEND

The Vikings' pass defense will be tested by Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith, who returns to action for the first time this season after serving a two-game suspension for a training-camp fight with teammate Ken Lucas.

"You would expect him to be really fired up and looking forward to getting the ball in his hands," Frazier said. "I would assume that offensively they are glad to have him back and they are going to try to get the ball in his hands."

In 2005 against the Vikings, Smith had 11 catches for 201 yards and a touchdown with cornerback Fred Smoot largely blamed for Smith's big day.

This week, with a new defensive scheme, the Vikings said they have at least considered assigning cornerback Antoine Winfield to cover Smith. Winfield normally just plays on the left side of the defense and doesn't usually follow the opposition's top receiver.

"That's something to consider. He is an outstanding receiver," Frazier said. "There are going to have to be some times where we have to pay attention to him. That is something that we'll have to consider on defense.

"We definitely have talked about it. I think most teams do. When you play Steve Smith, you have to talk about him much like teams do when they get ready to play Adrian Peterson. Same way."

Last week, Peyton Manning passed for 311 yards against the Vikings defense after being held to 86 yards in the first half. Much of his second-half yardage came on explosive plays against the Vikings, and this time Cedric Griffin was often the victim.

"There were some things fundamentally that he can work on, that he can improve on, and that's what he is going to be doing throughout this week," Frazier said. "But he did do a lot of good things throughout that game as well. It just seemed that he struggled a little bit, and part of it was that Antoine just did such a great job on Marvin Harrison throughout the day so they had to go somewhere else. So things he had mistakes on he can clean up and he will."

ALLISON'S DANCE

For those who saw Aundrae Allison dance out of the way of the ball while covering a punt near the goal line against Indianapolis, Allison had a logical explanation. He came from out of bounds and didn't want to be the first man to touch the ball, which would have been a penalty. Instead, the Vikings still got the ball downed at the 3-yard line, but Allison had a humorous explanation of how he tried to slow the ball's momentum without touching it.

"I saw (Eric Frampton) coming, so I just wanted to basically get in the way of the ball and just try to slow it down, slow the momentum down," Allison said.

Allison said the Vikings got away with illegally touching the ball in a similar situation in the season opener at Green Bay and again earlier in the game against the Colts. So, when he didn't have assistance later in the second quarter against the Colts, he figured he would try to get away with it. He was caught, the Vikings were penalized, and the Colts received the ball at their own 20-yard line, where they would have gotten it anyway if Allison had let it bounce into the end zone.


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