EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – Kevin Williams has never been incredibly loquacious in public. He has always preferred to use that syrupy Arkansas drawl to talk about the game and not much else, batting away attention like he brushes aside a center on his way to the quarterback.
As his 11th, and possibly last, season with the Minnesota Vikings enters the final quarter, Williams' tune is starting to change. The big defensive tackle is a little more reflective, sentimental even, given the very real possibility that his days with the only NFL franchise he's ever known are numbered.
Williams is in the final year of his contract. And with first-round draft choice Sharrif Floyd waiting in the wings and Williams' 34th birthday coming during training camp next August, the Vikings might have to move on.
"You have to soak up all the moments you can," said Williams, who was voted the recipient of the Ed Block Courage award by his teammates this week. "The wins, enjoy the playoff runs, embrace all the people you meet and the friends you make because one day it's going to eventually be done. Right now we're just trying to play ball, enjoy the group I'm with and we'll see where we go at the end of the year."
The big fella can still bring it, even if he's not as consistently overpowering as he once was. He had seven tackles and 2½ sacks against the Washington Redskins on Nov. 7 and was a disruptive force against big-time rookie running back Eddie Lacy in a tie with the Green Bay Packers two weeks ago.
He's been so many things for so long:
— A versatile beast on the line: He's played defensive end, under tackle and nose tackle. Made six Pro Bowls and five All-Pro teams.
"It's been a blessing and an honor for me to be able to play with him," Adrian Peterson said. "Just an incredible talent and a great person. On the field, he's been doing it for so long and dominating. ... You don't really find that that often, especially on the defensive front. He stands with an elite group."
— A pillar in the locker room: Williams is soft-spoken, but commands the respect of his teammates like few others do.
"Doesn't say a whole lot, but when he does, players listen," coach Leslie Fraizer said. "They respect Kevin a lot. To have one of your best players being a role model in the locker room, off the field, at practice, that's what you want from a coaching standpoint. He's ideal when you talk about great players that are a model of what you want your team to be."
— An interpreter for new faces: When defensive end Jared Allen arrived in a trade in 2008, Williams helped him as he struggled to understand the mumbling of fellow tackle Pat Williams.
"He was actually my translator to understand what Pat was saying," Allen said. "It took me about a year to understand what Pat was saying. Now I speak fluent Pat Williams."
— A model for toughness and consistency: He's only missed three games to injury despite playing one of the most demanding positions in the game.
"He's just a perfect example of what it is to be a professional," linebacker Chad Greenway said.
All the testimonials pouring in have taken on a reverential tone, as everyone seems to understand that unless he takes a big pay cut, No. 93 won't be around next season. It's been a difficult line for him to walk, trying to enjoy his increasingly short time here while also focusing on helping the Vikings (3-8-1) not lose focus in a difficult season.
"You definitely appreciate it. I mean, coming in as a rookie you're bright eyed and bushy tailed and you never know what to expect," he said. "It takes three or four years for you to actually realize this is a billion dollar business. Each team does everything it can to win. It's nothing personal but it's all business."
When his thoughts turned to his mates — Allen in particular — on the defensive line, Williams showed a rare vulnerability.
"You're going to make me get sentimental up here," he said. "It's been a tremendous honor to have him come in and join forces with me and Pat at the time and now it's me and him and Brian Robison and Letroy and Fred. We're a close group of guys."
The feeling is clearly mutual.
"I can't cross that bridge now," Allen said when asked if this is his last year with Williams. "There's no sense thinking about it now. I don't know where his life is going to go, and he doesn't know where mine (is going). We've got four more weeks together, that's for sure. Unless the world ends tomorrow."
NOTES: Frazier said QB Christian Ponder still has not passed the necessary tests to clear him from his concussion, ensuring that Josh Freeman will be the backup to starter Matt Cassel against the Ravens on Sunday. ... S Harrison Smith, who is on injured reserve with a designation to return because of a toe injury, has practiced this week. Frazier said Smith looks good and could return against the Eagles next week.