B-Will Proving a Solid Starting CB

Brian Williams

Brian Williams was only supposed to be a replacement starter for cornerback Fred Smoot, but Williams has played so well in Smoot's absence that he could remain the starter. That is only one of a few injury rotations the Vikings have had to make on defense.

Brian Williams has played so well at right cornerback that he will remain the starter despite the return of Fred Smoot. Smoot, a high-priced free agent acquisition last March, was used as the nickel back last Sunday against St. Louis after missing four games because of a partially fractured right collarbone.

The expectation of many was that Smoot would be eased back into action and would start Sunday against Pittsburgh. But Williams had two interceptions and broke up three passes against the Rams, making it next to impossible for the defensive staff to make a change.

Smoot saw plenty of action in the nickel package versus St. Louis, about 40 plays, and should be on the field quite a bit against Pittsburgh.

The Vikings are expecting to get Pro Bowl DT Kevin Williams back. He missed two games with a second-degree sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee. Williams' absence enabled rookie C.J. Mosley to get some valuable experience.

While Williams is set to return, Minnesota will be without SLB Keith Newman for two games because of a sprained right knee. The loss is big because Newman took charge of making certain defensive calls and alerting teammates to what might be coming.

Napoleon Harris and Raonall Smith will compete in practice this week for the starting spot on the strong side. Harris held the job early in the season but was benched in favor of Newman after four games. Smith came in for Newman in the first half Sunday and is the likely starter. Coach Mike Tice was pleased by Smith's performance against the Rams.

"I don't think he had a mental error," Tice said.

Harris has tumbled down the depth chart so far that he was inactive two weeks ago against Detroit and was up Sunday only because of injuries on special teams.

Offensively, Tice indicated rookie running back Ciatrick Fason could see increased playing time in the final three games of the season. Tice likes Fason's size, and with Mewelde Moore banged up, it appears the fourth-round pick is working his way into the picture.

NOTES

  • The Vikings suffered the third of their four Super Bowl losses on Jan. 12, 1975, against Pittsburgh. The Steelers beat the Vikings 16-6 at Tulane Stadium in the ninth edition of the game. The score was 9-6 with 10 minutes remaining when quarterback Terry Bradshaw led the Steelers on a drive that took more than seven minutes and ended with a touchdown pass to tight end Larry Brown.

  • After the Vikings' 6-3 victory over the Steelers in 1992, Minnesota routed Pittsburgh 44-24 three years later. The Vikings turned seven Steelers turnovers into 27 points.

  • Tommy Kramer threw for three touchdowns and 257 yards, leading the Vikings to a victory over the Steelers in 1986. That was the last meeting between the teams at the Metrodome.

  • The Vikings' 21-16 loss to the Steelers in 2001 had its share of drama. Minnesota trailed by 18 points with 6:44 left before beginning a rally that came up short. The Vikings' previous three road losses before that game had been by an average margin of 23.7 points.

    Running back Michael Bennett had a career-long 80-yard touchdown catch in that 2001 meeting.

  • The Vikings posted the longest winning streak of either team in this series, beating the Steelers three in a row in the 1960s (1964, 1967 and 1969).

  • Nose tackle Pat Williams posted a season-high seven tackles and had a sack last January when he played against Pittsburgh as a member of the Buffalo Bills.

  • Wide receiver Travis Taylor tied a career high with seven catches for 82 yards against the Steelers while playing for Baltimore in 2002.

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