The old axiom is that football is a game of inches. Madieu Williams may be counting his blessings in centimeters.
Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier revealed this week that Williams was centimeters from being paralyzed after taking a hit in training camp last summer. The exact hit that did the damage is still a bit of a mystery, but the injury was initially termed as a neck sprain with some nerve damage by a source familiar with the situation.
Frazier believes it was one of two collisions that took Williams out of action before the preseason game began until midway through the regular season – either a hit with Adrian Peterson or contact in a scrimmage against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The safety didn't play in any of the preseason games and was inactive for the first seven games of the regular season before making his first start as a Viking after signing a six-year free-agent contract that averages $5.5 million over the life of the deal.
"For him to come back, first of all is a tremendous accomplishment," Frazier said. "When you're just centimeters away from being paralyzed and all the thoughts that have to go through your head as far as the game of football is concerned, the fact that he came back and not only played but played very well for us, it's just a testament to his courage and his mental fortitude because it's a serious, serious injury that he suffered and he played very, very well for us. And he'll be even better next season now that he's got his confidence back. He understands what we're trying to do on defense. He's familiar with his teammates. He'll be an even better player. He did a great job."
A person familiar with injury agreed that it was serious but said that being centimeters away from paralysis might be the case with a number of neck injuries.
With Williams inactive until after the Vikings' bye week, the team went 3-4. They were 7-2 with him in the lineup for the final nine regular-season games.
Initially, Frazier said, he didn't realize how serious Williams' injury was.
"It took a while. I didn't realize how serious it was until the doctors did their examinations and told us how serious it was. I knew he was in pain. Any time a guy talks about not having feeling in certain parts of his body or having numbness, then you know there is something wrong. To what degree I didn't realize until the doctors explained and then I was like, ‘Wow, pretty serious,'" Frazier said.
Throughout the much of October, Frazier and the Vikings talked about getting Williams back, and he returned to the practice field for a few weeks before he was finally inserted back into the lineup on Nov. 2 against the Houston Texans.
Frazier said the coaching staff didn't have any hesitation about playing him at that point.
"You just rely on the medical people. Once they said it was a go, then you have to trust their opinion, their expertise. Once Madieu felt good about it, the doctors felt good about it, then you've got to go with it. And that's what we did and it worked out fine," he said.
It was then that he became the eighth player in Vikings history to have an interception in his first game as a Viking, and he led the Vikings with nine tackles in his initial effort. He finished the season with 45 tackles and two interceptions in nine regular-season games.
Suffice it to say that the last part of the regular season was less frustrating than the first part, when it wasn't even clear which hit caused such extensive damage.
"There were a couple of collisions in camp, one with Adrian and once in Kansas City in that scrimmage we had," Frazier said. "Both caused a lot of trauma and I don't know if we ever pinpointed which hit actually created the situation, but probably one of those two. Both situations he had to leave the scrimmage."
Fortunately, he was able to avoid life-changing damage and even return to the game.
Williams was ‘centimeters' from paralysis
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