A welcome sight at Wednesday's first official practice after the bye week was seeing safety Madieu Williams in uniform and ready to go. One of the Vikings' big off-season signings, Williams inked a six-year, $33 million deal to provide the Vikings defense with another top-end defender.
For the last couple of seasons, the safety opposite All-Pro Darren Sharper was the equivalent of a patchwork quilt. The Vikings dusted off veteran players like Dwight Smith, Mike Doss and Tank Williams to get to the job done – with limited success. That was all supposed to change with the arrival of Williams.
However, early in training camp, Williams suffered a neck injury – the severity of which was not immediately disclosed. At first, he was going to miss a couple of weeks, which quickly turned into a month and subsequently much more than that. After sitting out the preseason and the first seven games of the regular season, Williams is prepared to make his Vikings debut Sunday against the Houston Texans.
The wait has been a long one for Vikings fans, but it's been even tougher on Williams, who is looking to make an impression on his new teammates, coaches and fan base. As excited as he was to get the financial security of his long-term contract, more important has been the chance to make an impact on the field.
"I don't think anyone envisions themselves being hurt, especially coming into a new situation," Williams said. "You want to go out there to play and showcase your talent. But that wasn't the case for me."
The injury itself was one that left the team cautious in bringing Williams back. Neck injuries can be the death of NFL careers, but Williams said, while it was a setback, he was never worried about not seeing his Vikings career get started – it was simply delayed.
"The truth of the matter is that I was walking (immediately after the injury), so I never thought it was career-threatening," Williams said. "If anything, I knew I would be able to play, I just didn't how long that would take. It's been a long time and I'm excited about getting out there and playing with my teammates."
In his fifth NFL season, Williams said when he does take the field Sunday, there won't be any butterflies or nerves associated with his first game action with his new teammates. If anything, the first impression he made back in April and May was what had him getting a case of nerves. Compared to that, playing in a game is a piece of cake.
"I was more nervous in my first practice of the OTAs than I will be in my first game," Williams said. "For me, it's just a matter of playing my game, communicating on the back end and make sure the things that we practice transfer into a game situation."
Williams' excitement about being in the lineup is shared by his teammates. Sharper said he was as excited as anyone to see the Vikings address the safety position in free agency and has been awaiting the entrance of Williams into the Vikings defensive game plan. As he's sees it, better late than never.
"I'm very excited to have him out there," Sharper said. "I'm excited to feel his presence when we're out there in practice – his knowledge of the game, how he moves around, his experience in knowing where to be, how he talks to me. We're excited as a team to see what he's going to add to this defense."
What exactly Williams' role in the defense will be hasn't been determined. He was still listed as limited at Wednesday's practice and said he hasn't been informed whether he will be starting immediately or worked into the lineup gradually in a time-share with rookie Tyrell Johnson.
"The coach hasn't given me a direction as far as what my role is going to be," Williams said. "One of the things I've been told is to prepare myself as much as I can to play – whether that's starting or coming off the bench. I have to make sure I'm ready when my number is called."
For a season that began with so much hope when the Vikings made him one of their first free-agent signings, Williams said it has been a long time coming for him to step on to the field and help his team dig out of the slow start that has plagued them since the beginning of the season. Sunday may finally bring that personal and professional letdown to an end.
"To come into this situation and not be able to play the first half of the season has been disappointing," Williams said. "I think it's more disappointing than it is frustrating. It's just part of life. Things happen over the course of a lifetime that you're not prepared for, but what can you do? You've got to pick up everything the way it is and move on. That's what I'm prepared to do now."
Williams embracing upcoming opportunity
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