A year ago at this time, safety Madieu Williams was concerned about when or if his NFL career was going to continue following a freak neck injury suffered in the early days of camp. As he practiced Friday night, he's looking for a fresh start.
During the seven-on-seven drills Friday night at Blakeslee Stadium in Mankato, Percy Harvin
strayed into Madieu Williams
' zone and Williams pretended he was going to level the rookie. He didn't, because the team wasn't risking injury doing any heavy hitting. They're saving it for the Colts Thursday.
"That's just part of training camp," Williams said. "Right now we're getting prepared for our first preseason game next week. It's all part of the process. We'll be ready to do some hitting (for the preseason opener)."
But, if there was a player who exemplified why the team would err on the side of caution it is Williams. A year ago at this time, Williams was sidelined with what were termed as neck spasms. It wasn't until about a week later – Aug, 12, 2008 – that the bad news became official. Williams would miss the first seven games of the season and, only months later, would defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier say that Williams was mere centimeters away from being paralyzed in the freak injury.
Williams said there were some very tense moments in the immediate aftermath of the injury. Not knowing the extent of the damage had Williams on edge, but when he found out he had dodged a bullet of sorts and would be able to return to action, he said his rehab became his focus.
"I had faith that things would work out for the best," Williams said. "I kept holding on to that faith. Once I heard what the prognosis was – I felt comfortable knowing that I'd be able to come back at some point during the season."
But it wasn't the start to his Vikings career that he envisioned. He had signed a big deal and was injured only a couple of days into training camp. All the work in minicamps and OTAs was put on hold for two months. It got frustrating for Williams, who saw his impact on the defense nonexistent for the first seven games.
"I wanted to start out on an even playing field with all of the guys," Williams said. "I didn't allow that to deter me and help contribute later in the season. This year, I'm back on an even playing field and have the opportunity to start over again."
Williams believes that the Vikings have the defense in place to make a legitimate playoff run. With the talent the defense has at all three levels, Williams said the Vikings have a chance to be one of the top defenses in the league.
"We're definitely a team that has some good prospects on the defense," Williams said. "Everywhere you look, we have guys who are battle-tested – the D-line, linebackers and the secondary. It gives you a lot of confidence knowing that you have a wealth of experience. But we still have to go out and do it on Sundays. That's what we're looking forward to doing."
And a year after nearly seeing his NFL career ended by a freak training camp injury, Williams expects to be right in the middle of that defense – making plays and showing Vikings fans why the Vikings invested a long-term deal with him.
FRIDAY NIGHT PRACTICE NOTES
Due in part to a significant amount of rain throughout the day Friday, while the rain held off for the evening practice, there wasn't much in the way of big hitting. The players typically went at about three-quarters speed so as not to risk injury on the still-wet grass.
In the final minutes of the practice, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson appeared to tweak his injured left knee as the pocket collapsed around him on a pass play. The whistle blew, but Jackson went to the ground briefly and came up noticeably limping. He attempted to come back just one play later. On his next (and last) pass of the night, he badly overthrew a pass that was intercepted by safety Eric Frampton and returned down the sidelines.
Once again, the only two players missing practice were defensive end Brian Robison (hamstring) and running back Khalil Bell (ankle).
Adrian Peterson put a crazy fake on E.J. Henderson in the one-on-one passing drills, getting a big ovation from the crowd.
Wide receiver Glenn Holt sat out about a half hour of the practice after being poked in the eye by cornerback Asher Allen. Allen was trying to get a bump on Holt and inadvertently caught him in the eye. Holt stayed down for about 30 seconds, but returned to practice later.
Erin Henderson made a nice strip of TE Garrett Mills in one-on-one drills.
On his first deep pass attempt, Sage Rosenfels appeared to have Jaymar Johnson for a 50-yard gain, but Cedric Griffin timed his leap perfectly and slapped the ball away.
Neither Jackson nor Rosenfels wowed the crowd. Both seemed about a half-second off with their passes, especially Jackson – who clearly upset Peterson, throwing a pass behind and having A.P. dramatically pull off his chin straps in disgust.
On his first carry of the full-team scrimmage, Percy Harvin was thrown for a loss by Ray Edwards. Later in the practice, Harvin would take a reverse and pick up about 20 yards.
John David Booty got about as many cheers as any of the three quarterbacks, completing most of his passes and looking much better than he has in recent days.
Visanthe Shiancoe continues to impress in camp, making a pair of off-balance fingertip catches down the deep middle.
The defense scored a safety when the first-team offense was pinned on its own 1-yard line.
The Vikings will have one practice Sunday, from 2:45 to 5 p.m. The temperatures are supposed to be the hottest they've been during camp.