Defender Swap

Kevin Williams

While one defensive starter is lost for a couple weeks, another one is set to return. The Vikings lost LB Keith Newman to a sprained knee and are expecting the return of DT Kevin Williams. Just as the Vikings prepare for the return of one defensive starter, another has been lost.

Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kevin Williams looked good in a workout Monday, according to coach Mike Tice, and he will be listed as probable for Sunday's game against Pittsburgh. Williams has missed the past two games because of a second-degree sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee.

However, the Vikings expect to be without strong-side linebacker Keith Newman for two weeks after he sprained the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during Sunday's 27-13 victory over the St. Louis Rams.

Tice said that Napoleon Harris, who lost the starting job to Newman after four games, and Raonall Smith will compete for the starting job in practice this week. Smith took over Sunday after Newman was injured in the first half.

Newman's loss is important because in addition to bringing energy to the field, he also made many of the calls in the Vikings' nickel package.

"It was noticeable on the tape when he left the game that we had some trouble getting lined up, very noticeable," Tice said. "They came out in some unbalanced line and quite frankly gave us a little bit of a problem. ... So we need to hone that up, tighten that up. We definitely missed the communication and the awareness of Keith Newman out there on that football field. We did settle down, but initially it caused us some problems."

If Newman does miss two weeks, he would return for the regular-season finale against the Chicago Bears at the Metrodome.

Depending on how thinks shake out, that game could be for the NFC North title. The Vikings (8-5) won their sixth in a row Sunday and are one game behind Chicago in the standings. The Bears (9-4) had their winning streak end at eight Sunday with a 21-9 loss at Pittsburgh.

Although Williams was not having the Pro Bowl-type of season that he did in 2004, his return will be welcomed by teammates up front.

"It's real good," said defensive lineman Spencer Johnson, who stands to lose playing time with Williams back. "We're a group that plays with a lot of confidence. To get one of our better players back is really good right now. Everything is looking up right now. Hopefully everybody can get in and everybody can stay healthy for the rest of this season. Kevin is going to mean a lot to this defense."

NOTES

  • The Vikings might have been ahead by 14 points in the fourth quarter, but safety Darren Sharper wasn't pleased to see fans head for the Metrodome exits early. "I would like to see them stay for the whole game," he said. "Where I come from — everybody knows where I come from (Green Bay) — the fans don't leave. No matter if you're blowing a team out by three touchdowns or you're losing by three touchdowns, the fans don't leave. I know we have traffic problems here, so it might be a little bit of difference, they want to beat the traffic. But I would like to see them stay for the whole game."

  • Receiver Koren Robinson on how many NFL receivers are more explosive than he is: "I don't know. I don't really talk like that. I'm OK, I'm nice. I feel like I've got a lot of ability. I feel like I can compete with the best of them. Let's put it like that."

  • Rookie running back Ciatrick Fason has made an impression on coach Mike Tice. Tice said Monday he is "enamored" by the 6-foot, 207-pound Fason. "He's a big guy," Tice said. "He breaks a lot of tackles. He's got some good vision. I've heard people say he doesn't have good vision. I don't know what they're looking at. I think he's got great vision, and he has some wiggle to him for a big guy. He's got to learn to run behind his pads, as he matures and gets whacked a couple of times, but he has some quickness about him for a big guy. He does a great job on the (scout) team. He makes them work."

  • Cornerback Fred Smoot returned Sunday against St. Louis after missing four games because of a partially fractured right collarbone. Smoot did not start — Brian Williams remained in that role — but he did see plenty of action in the nickel package. Tice said Williams, who had two interceptions Sunday, will remain the starter. Tice did indicate Smoot wasn't happy last week when told he wasn't starting.

    "I told him he was going to play a lot," Tice said. "(The Rams aren't) a two-back team. ... We knew he was going to play a lot, and he didn't want to buy into that. All week he felt like he wasn't going to play a lot, but we knew he was going to play a lot. He played 39 plays I believe. That is a lot of plays."

  • NT Pat Williams sprained his right knee in the fourth quarter Sunday but said Monday that he's fine.

  • WR Troy Williamson, a rookie, was in uniform Sunday after being inactive the previous two games. Williamson caught one pass for 12 yards and also ran 11 yards for a first down on a reverse play.

  • P Chris Kluwe (right knee) did some punting Monday and might be able to return Sunday against Pittsburgh. The Vikings missed Kluwe against St. Louis. Veteran Darren Bennett struggled in his first game of the season, and the Rams received favorable field position as a result.

  • LB Heath Farwell (right knee) is expected back Sunday after missing a game. Farwell plays on all the Vikings' special teams.
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