Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 1/26/12
At 6-foot-5 and 311 pounds, Kevin Williams has been a physical force in the middle of the Minnesota Vikings defense for nine years. The soft-spoken defensive tackle has contradicted his size with remarkable agility and durability. Williams had only missed two games in his career entering the 2011 season, but all the years and games might have begun to wear on his big frame. When training camp opened last August, Williams said he showed up in the best shape of his career. Not long after he started feeling pain in his foot and knee. The knee acted up after having surgery in the offseason. A few weeks into camp, he suffered from plantar fasciitis in his foot. The NFL then informed him he was suspended for the first two weeks and had to forfeit four weeks of pay from the long-expected StarCaps substance-abuse case ruling. When he returned, Williams didn't seem to be the dynamic player he was in the past. The knee continued to bother him and the team's 3-13 record added up to the toughest season of his nine-year career. "As far as the injuries, the suspension and the losing, yeah, you could probably say it was the toughest," Williams said after the season. A silver lining, at least for Williams, was discovered in those final few games. While the injuries lingered, his productivity increased. Williams had five sacks in the last seven games and recorded 41 of his 56 tackles, giving him and the Vikings the hope he can return to the dominance he showed earlier in his career as a six-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro. "I'm still going to play at a high level," Williams said. "I think five sacks in seven games shows that. If you can get it rolling all year, I think, heck, I might have had 10 sacks." Williams, 31, acknowledges the obvious he's not as young as he used to be. With Jim Kleinsasser retiring, Williams enters next season with 140 games played for Minnesota, the most of any current player. He could be the longest-tenured member of the Vikings too, if free-agent linebacker E.J. Henderson signs elsewhere. Williams was Minnesota's first-round pick (9th overall) in 2009 and Henderson was taken in the second round. Since then, Williams has played in 140 of a possible 144 games, starting every single game of career. He started the first 43 games of his career before missing two games in 2005 with a knee injury. Williams, named one of the 50 greatest Vikings as part of the 50th anniversary in 2010, had started 83 straight games since returning in week 14 of the 2005 season, before serving his suspension this season. Besides Kleinsasser, only Ryan Longwell, Steve Hutchinson, Antoine Winfield and Sage Rosenfels on Minnesota have played in the NFL longer. "I'm getting old," Williams said. "I'm one of the old guys around here." This past season, Williams finally felt the wear and tear. He said he planned on having the knee checked out again this offseason to diagnose what is causing the pain. Dealing with the plantar fasciitis was especially tough. "Once that thing tore, it was pretty much over with," Williams said, adding: "The knee was swelling and the foot, but I'm not going to make excuses. I'm out there on the field making plays." Williams was also adapting to a new partner inside after playing with fellow defensive tackle Pat Williams for the previous six years. With the "Williams Wall" in the middle, Minnesota's defense led the league three straight seasons from 2006-08 and was second in 2009. The Vikings were ninth against the run last season and slipped to 11th this year. There was an adjustment period for Kevin Williams as several players rotated beside him. Remi Ayodele was signed to replace Pat Williams and started 13 games, but never made the impact Kevin Williams was used to having next to him. "You miss him, of course, but you've got to roll with the guys you've got and build some chemistry with those guys," Kevin Williams said. "We got it going a little bit, but it wasn't as smooth as playing alongside Pat for so long." Kevin Williams, ninth in Vikings' history with 54.5 career sacks, finally broke through in week 11 against the Oakland Raiders. He had 12 tackles, two tackles for loss and his first sack since the second week of the 2010 season, a span of 22 games. After recording just one sack in 2010, he finished third on the team with five sacks, 14 tackles for loss and 24 quarterback hurries. Williams' 54.5 sacks since 2003 are the most by any defensive tackle during that time. The strong finish has Williams looking to the future. He has three more years remaining on his current contract after signing a seven-year extension in 2006. Williams said he hopes he can finish his career in Minnesota, but he isn't sure how many more years he wants to play. "I won't put a number on it," Williams said. "I'm just going to play as hard as I can for the next couple of years and let it happen."
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