When the Vikings’ D-line was at its best the middle of the field was controlled by the Williams Wall: Kevin Williams playing 3-technique and Pat Williams playing the nose. Since Pat Williams departed, the Vikings have never really replaced him – both in terms of quality and position fit. They have essentially been getting by without a viable nose tackle on the roster, and they still are.
If you look at their four top defensive tackles, five if you count DE/DT tweener Christian Ballard, they are all natural 3-technique players.
What is the difference between the two positions? Well in the Vikings’ 4-3 the nose tackle isn’t asked to two-gap as traditional 3-4 NTs are – to straddle a blocker and shut down the gap to either side of him – instead, they’re expected to control one gap but often draw a double team in doing so. Pat Williams was such a dominant run defender that he could get away with doing this and also controlling a second gap at times, freelancing away from the defensive scheme just because he could.
The alignment of the defensive front for the Vikings ensures that the NT is the player that usually draws the double team from the center and one of the guards while the 3-tech is usually left one on one with the other guard.
The nose tackle in this front therefore needs to be able to hold up at the point of attack against two bodies and really be a run-stuffing specialist, while the other positions can attack gaps with only one blocker to contend with.
Letroy Guion has been forced into the starting nose tackle spot despite checking in at barely 300lbs. Of all the players in that rotation Guion might be the least natural run-stuffer and the least capable of anchoring against a double team. I’ve contended for a while that Fred Evans, a much better run defender than Guion, should be the starter at the NT position, but even Evans is a more natural 3-tech in my eyes. He has one of the quickest first steps in football, which he uses to blow up plays in the backfield rather than controlling two blockers and clogging up the running lanes. It works, but is a less reliable and consistent tactic than having the kind of power and anchor that Pat Williams had.
*In the image above, the nearest DT bursting across line is Evans.
From the limited tape I’ve seen of first-round pick Sharrif Floyd, he looks like he might have the skillset to play either position, but the Vikings have been adamant from the start that he is a 3-tech and backup to Kevin Williams, not an heir to Pat Williams. Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams made a point of saying “the one thing about those two spots is they are different spots. Just because you are a great three-technique doesn’t mean you’re going to come in and play nose and be as effective.“
Ironic if only because he sees the inherent problem but seems happy to do that exact thing to anybody that wasn’t a first-round pick.
So the Vikings may be destined to go through another season with no viable NT on the roster, but I think they actually do have one: Kevin Williams.
Since he came into the league Kevin Williams has been one of the best 3-tech DTs in football, but he could enjoy a second career with a move to the nose. At his best he was always a powerful run defender, not simply a quick, penetrating pass rusher. At over 311-pounds and standing 6-foot-5, he has the kind of size and bulk to play on the nose, and during the time he was paired with Pat Williams he developed a lot of the skills needed to succeed there. Since PFF has been grading, Williams has never graded negatively over a season for his run defense, and though his production has dropped as he has aged, that is less of an issue on the nose than it will be in his current spot.
A move to NT for Williams would help disguise his lost step, allow quicker DTs on the roster to play in their natural position, and fill the void that Minnesota hasn’t been able to patch since Pat Williams retired all in one act.
It would also pave the way for the Vikings and Kevin Williams to work together on a new contract beyond the current deal that will likely see him playing elsewhere or sitting at home after the 2013 season otherwise. At the moment he is paid like a dominant 3-tech, a player that can consistently get after the passer, and he may not be that guy anymore. The Vikings have already shown with the way they treated Antoine Winfield this offseason that they are prepared to quickly cut loose a contract they feel is no longer being fully earned, but if Williams could show that he was still a capable force on the nose, both sides could potentially work out an extension at a more reasonable pay level.
Maybe the Vikings don’t have a real nose tackle on the roster, and are content with trying to shoehorn natural 3-techs into the position, but if they’re doing that they might want to look at their archetypal 3-tech, Kevin Williams, because he just may have morphed himself into the answer in recent years.
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