Getting To Know: CB Brian Williams

Cornerback Brian Williams entered the Vikings' 2002 summer camps with a goal to be starting by the end of the season. He did start the final seven games, during which time the Vikings went 4-3, giving him hope for next season after his rookie learning experience.

Flames for the freshman. Brian Williams knew the 2002 season would be all about baptism by fire and having little to do with studying from the sidelines.

He was no longer playing college football. Class was no longer in session. He was now in the NFL, where performance — not reputation — was what mattered most.

It didn't take a nuclear physicist to conclude that, given the Vikings' shoddy 2001 secondary, there would be a strong chance the fourth-round draft pick would be afforded every opportunity to contribute during his rookie season. With a little luck and a lot of sweat, Williams figured after being drafted by the Vikings, he could turn into a starter before the season was over.

"My goal was to make the team in training camp and my role was special teams at first, and then I worked hard at that," Williams said. "I kind of expected to start at some time, but I didn't know when it would come about. All I could do was learn from the older guys like (Corey) Chavous, who was in front of me.

"Coming in, I was very confident. I felt I would be somewhere on the field contributing."

That Williams checked into Mankato with confidence oozing should come as a surprise to no one. To defensive backs, just as important as speed and ability is the mental mindset that they can match up with any receiver opposite them. Without the self-assurance of believing they have the individual capabilities to be knockdown, shutdown players, defensive backs are nothing more than sacrificial lambs trapped on an island waiting to be exposed and exploited by salivating receivers.

"As far as starting, it just came about," Williams said. "The coaches did a good job of working me up to it. It happened for me at the right time."

Williams had one of the most consistent seasons of any rookie on the Vikings roster. He played in every game. He started the season as a special teamer, then worked his way into dime and nickel situations, and eventually cracked the starting lineup.

He made his first NFL start on Nov. 17 at the Metrodome, when the Vikings routed the Green Bay Packers. Williams started at left cornerback and recorded four tackles and one pass defensed. His play continued to improve as the season progressed.

He started the final seven games, and the Vikings were 4-3 in those games. He finished the season with 34 tackles — tops among all Vikings rookies (tied with Nick Rogers and Jack Brewer) — one interception and one fumble recovery.

"Brian is one of those young players, like Kelly Campbell and Bryant McKinnie and Nick Rogers, Jack Brewer … (they) are stepping up a little bit," Vikings head coach Mike Tice said. "That's what you need. You need your young players to start playing for you if you're going to have any chance of being successful in the end."

Even though Williams says he expected to be in the starting lineup, there had to be a tiny voice inside his head that occasionally would cast doubt.

Rewind to training camp, where Williams was surprised that the speed wasn't that much different from college to the NFL: "As far as training camp, that's not really game speed," he said. "Preseason wasn't, either, because I was playing against backup guys, too."

As for the regular season opener, against Chicago at Champaign, Ill.: "The first game in Chicago I was playing nickel or dime," Williams recalled. "Everything was like it was flying by me and I had to catch on quick. I was a little slow at first. I missed a lot of plays that I normally make, but that comes with maturity and being a veteran.

"I realized I needed to work on the speed of the game."

Lesson No. 1 for the rookie was absorbed quickly.

Lesson No. 2 was digested almost as fast.

"It's all simple in college," Williams said, remembering that he hardly needed to do much homework for college opponents while playing for North Carolina State. "On this level, you have to study. In college, you watch a couple of films and you're OK. The film, studying formations … it's maybe three times as much as college."

The Vikings ended the season on a three-game winning streak, including two on the road. But Super Bowl tickets shouldn't be printed yet. In fact, despite Tice's 2003 prediction — a trip to the postseason — that isn't a cinch for next season's Vikings, either.

But there was a certain swagger with the 2002 Vikings, even though they finished 6-10. Unlike 2001, when the 5-11 Vikings ended the season in disarray, the 2002 team is already yearning for the start of next season.

"We're a winning team," Williams said. "We lost a lot of close games. We lost games early (in the season) and we'll come back next year and compete. Our record says different, but we have good players."

Winning three straight games to end the season instills that kind of confidence.

"That was really important," Williams said. "It gives us that extra momentum coming back into training camp to give us that edge to know that we can win. That was big for us.

"I think that last secondary switch the coaches made (Chavous to safety, Williams to starting cornerback) gave us a lot of chemistry. Considering how we started 0-4 and struggled in the secondary, we've all come together. We'll come together as a team next year and we'll definitely be ready."

Ready and together. Williams not only learned on the field during his rookie season. He may have learned more in the locker room. Players often overrate the team unity factor, but in the Vikings' case the 2002 season was built on a foundation of team purpose.

"Even during the losing streak we didn't get down," he said. "It hurt to lose. We weren't satisfied with losing, but we were always optimistic from day one. I can say this until I'm blue in the face that we're not a 6-10 team, but we feel that way. We competed with some big teams with big names. That's a good way to end the season."

It is what will continue to fuel Williams' desire. Save for a family Disney World getaway with his 3-year-old daughter, Lauryn, Williams is already awaiting his return to North Carolina State, where he can conduct offseason workouts with other ex-Wolfpack members, such as rookie linebacker Lavar Fisher (Arizona), second-year defensive back Adrian Wilson (Arizona) and second-year receiver Koren Robinson (Seattle).

"A division title is within reach," Williams said. "We lost two games in our division to Green Bay and Chicago. Both of those were close games. We can win our division. I feel we can beat anybody. It's a matter of going out and getting it done."

Favorite movie: Life
Favorite actor: Denzel Washington
Favorite actress: Halle Barry
Favorite vehicle: Corvette
Current vehicle: Lexus LS-430
Hobbies: Relaxing, playing basketball
Toughest player I ever faced: Rod Gardner, Washington
If I weren't playing football: I'd maybe be coaching

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