By Dave Campbell
The Associated Press
EDEN PRAIRIE —
The day after Minnesota’s only loss of the season, defensive coordinator Alan Williams met with the elders of his unit.
This wasn’t some scream-a-thon, though. The veterans weren’t stubbornly complaining about the new guy’s strategy, either. The talk, by all accounts, was more of a corporate-style strategy session: a respectful give-and-take about how to avoid the same mistakes and become a stronger group.
Considering how the Vikings have played on defense since then, it was one productive conversation.
“When you have that kind of confidence in a coach, knowing that he has that type of confidence in his players, it really makes you want to play better for him,” defensive end Brian Robison said.
At the beginning of training camp, Williams spoke of tailoring the “Tampa Two” zone scheme he learned under Tony Dungy with the Indianapolis Colts around the strengths of the current Vikings, not trying to force the players into certain preferences of his. This week, he deflected praise toward the other assistant coaches on defense for their ability to maximize the existing talent.
“I rely on them to tell me what guys do well and what positions we need to put them in to be successful,” Williams said.
The Vikings (4-1) lost at Indianapolis on Sept.16 because of a number of critical breakdowns.
They let rookie Andrew Luck move the Colts 45 yards in three plays and 18 seconds to kick the winning field goal, ruining a 14-point rally by the offense over the last half of the fourth quarter that tied the game. Earlier, they extended an Indianapolis scoring drive twice with personal fouls. They also allowed Luck to direct two first-half touchdown drives, the first on mostly short throws and the second capped by a deep pass down the middle of the field that made the secondary look silly.
This came after a shaky-at-times performance against Jacksonville in the opener when they gave up a 39-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds left in regulation to momentarily lose the lead and let Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert throw for a career-high 260 yards.
So after the humbling loss to the Colts, Robison, defensive end Jared Allen, defensive tackle Kevin Williams and cornerback Antoine Winfield were among those who approached Williams with their concerns. This wasn’t the prelude to a mutiny, however. They simply brought constructive feedback about the rush and coverage calls they felt worked best or worst with their skill sets and styles.
“He’s done a really good job of ... putting those coverages he wants to run in the mix but at the same time also allowing us to relay to him ... we don’t want to run this coverage because we don’t feel comfortable doing it,” Robison said. “Then he makes the change with the call. Egos aren’t getting in the way, and we’re really working well together right now.”
Williams was focused most on making sure the calls were carried out properly, particularly by the young players in the secondary. That didn’t always happen against the Jaguars or the Colts.
“Ultimately what we have to do is what’s best for the team overall,” Williams said. “We don’t want to put square pegs in round holes, but when it’s all said it done it’s what’s going to be best for the defense and what’s best for the Minnesota Vikings football team and not necessarily the individual.”
Coach Leslie Frazier, who was on Dungy’s staff in Indianapolis with Williams in 2005 and 2006 before he was hired as defensive coordinator by the Vikings, said he considered strong communication skills important when he chose Williams to run the defense over the winter.
“It can be tough if you’re coming into a locker room with a lot of old vets, guys that have been in the league and really know everything or think they know everything,” safety Jamarca Sanford said, adding: “We just bought into what he was telling us. So far it’s been paying off.”