As the Vikings brace for the possibility of playing four games without their Pro Bowl defensive tackles, there is a sense of realism at Winter Park: Their backups aren't Pro Bowl players but there is a belief they are their best options.
Kevin Williams and Pat Williams, the latter not making the Pro Bowl last year, are expected to find out Friday if their restraining orders against the NFL-imposed four-game suspensions will hold up while they attempt another appeal in their case. In 2008, the Williams Wall tested positive for bumetanide, a substance that is banned by the league because of its steroid-masking capabilities, and the league suspended them for four games.
Since then, however, the Williams sued the NFL and portions of the case have been heard at different levels of the court system, but the league won the key ruling that said it had the right to suspend them for four games. If those suspensions are enforced in 2010, the Vikings feel they are about as prepared as they could have been.
They tendered Fred Evans at a second-round level before he became a free agent, making his price tag unattractive to other NFL teams. When Evans signed that tender, it assured the Vikings of his services for at least 2010.
Jimmy Kennedy, who received the most playing time of all the backup defensive tackles on the roster last year, became an unrestricted free agent. However, the Vikings eventually came in with a three-year contract offer that Kennedy was willing to accept.
"They're good players, they're pros too," Vikings coach Brad Childress said of his backup DTs. "Do they have the pedigree or the All-Pro starters? No, but that's how guys get an opportunity to play and excel and we have always been about that – next man up."
With an unrestricted free-agent field limited this year by new rules in free agency, the Vikings declined to seek help from the outside.
"It's not like we are going to go out and defensive tackles are going to drop out of the sky. There are guys on our football team and they understand with the number of guys that we have that those will be the first guys to step up," Childress said. "Now, whether we need to go out and grab somebody else … that remains to be seen. (Letroy) Guion is maturing in there, Jimmy Kennedy obviously did a great job for us last year and Fred Evans played a little bit more in the system. Those are good players."
Although there are intriguing names on the trade (Albert Haynesworth) and free-agent (John Henderson) market, any starting-caliber player considering Minnesota likely would have to realize that when the Williamses return to action, the front-line jobs are theirs again, at least for this year. That could make attracting talent that is better than Kennedy or Evans more difficult.
For now, the Vikings are still holding out hope that the Williams Wall will be solidly in place for every game this year.
"We are kind of staying in the now, (but) that doesn't mean that I don't look at the vision of what could be over the top of the hill," Childress said. "We've talked about it and then we've gone on. You want to add good players and it just so happens that when we were picking (in the draft) we picked another good player and not a defensive tackle player or a nose guard player when we picked."
As for the possibility of the Williams Wall serving staggered suspensions, the NFL has seemed to rule that out, saying there is no precedent for that, and Childress says he will steer clear of that debate and defer to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
"I really stay out of that realm. We haven't talked about that at all," he said. "Really, that is Roger's deal, how he sees fit."
The Vikings had only two of their starters – safeties Madieu Williams and Tyrell Johnson – on the field at Wednesday's open session of organized team activities, but the players attending varies some from day to day.
"We will have different people trickle in and out. We had a different group here yesterday. There is a group that was out here practicing yesterday that wasn't out here today," Childress said. "There is a group that is inside the building and taking care of some of their strength needs, after-the-season needs, some guys are rehabbing. (Strength and conditioning coach) Tom Kanavy told me we have four different strength programs going now – we have rehab guys, we have rookie guys, we have veteran guys."
Most of the rookies and younger veterans are there most days, but Chad Greenway was part of Tuesday's OTA and not Wednesday's, so it is clearly a rotating group.
JUST ANOTHER FAVRE NON-UPDATE UPDATE
Childress played coy with inquiries about Brett Favre's playing status for 2010 and on potential surgery for his injured left ankle.
"I have not (talked) recently (to Favre), what I would qualify as recent," Childress said. "Haven't talked to him in a little bit. We have texted back and forth, but texting is not talking."
Childress did clarify that he has no update on Favre's ankle.
LITO ON THE PUNTS
Lito Sheppard, a veteran free agent signed to help with the team's cornerback depth, was one of several players returning punts on Wednesday and looked comfortable in the role.
"I did it early in my career and I've continued to catch throughout my career and I just had never really done it in a game-time situation," Sheppard said. "I think they know my abilities and that's definitely a possibility."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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