Williams a big part of Vikings' improved secondary

Updated: October 2, 2003, 10:57 AM ET
ESPN

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Cornerbacks in the NFL are normally loquacious by nature, playing a position that spotlights individual skills probably more than any other on the defensive side.

Trash talk is usually a major part of their game, too, at least if they're good.

Well, the Minnesota Vikings' secondary is, suddenly, pretty good -- at least by looking at the statistics. But there sure isn't much sound coming from the group. These might be the quietest guys at Winter Park.

"You look at the personalities on our team," cornerback Brian Williams said, "and none of our guys are like that."

Pass defense, or lack thereof, has been by far the Vikings' biggest weakness since 1999. Through better coaching, a better pass rush, a little more experience and a whole lot more confidence, it's not a sore spot anymore.

The Vikings ranked 29th in the league last year in yards passing allowed. This year they're currently a respectable 14th, with an average of 205.5 yards given up -- many of those coming from opponents playing from behind.

The better part, though, is the NFL-high 11 interceptions. Free safety Brian Russell and strong safety Corey Chavous each have four and Williams has two.

"We are all playing with confidence right now," Williams said. "That helps a lot."

Williams was a fourth-round pick out of North Carolina State who started seven games as a rookie last year in a constantly-shuffling secondary. He showed some signs of potential, but -- like most of the others -- he was too inexperienced to make much of an impact.

"He's starting to be really aware and make some great plays," said Russell, an undrafted player who's having a similar breakthrough this year. "We're starting to see a lot out of him."

One highlight from Sunday's 35-7 win over San Francisco was the play Williams made on a down-the-sideline pass to Terrell Owens. He leaped high near the goal line and nearly made an amazing, hands-over-head interception. The ball came out on his fall to the turf, but it kept Owens from scoring -- and added to the 49ers star's frustration.

"We really didn't have any safety help over there for him," Russell said. "He made a great play."

Williams, like his fellow starting cornerback Denard Walker (a free-agent signee from Denver), is quick to shrug off any accolades.

"I just go out there and do my thing," he said. "I don't worry about that."

Veteran nickel back Ken Irvin, another silent type, has also been praised by the coaching staff.

"I think right now they're playing with good chemistry and good communication," said defensive coordinator George O'Leary. "They're playing well overall as a unit."

The Vikings did have some trouble tackling against San Francisco -- there were four running plays given up of 12 or more yards. That's something they'll have to shore up this week against Atlanta.

Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, whose game-winning touchdown run in overtime against the Vikings last year might have been shown more than any other NFL highlight from the 2002 season, won't play because of a broken leg.

But bruising running back T.J. Duckett, who rushed for 100 yards on 14 carries last week against Carolina, figures to be a big part of Atlanta's offensive plan.

"They're going to put the big-boy shoulder pads on Duckett, and they're going to run him right at us," coach Mike Tice said. "We have to tackle better than we tackled last week or we're going to have some problems."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index