A potential disaster in Minnesota

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
If you're a Minnesota fan, the scariest thing about the Vikings' latest off-field incident is the potential to lose both Pro Bowl defensive tackles at the same time.

FOX Sports reported Sunday that Pro Bowl defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams are among eight NFL players who could be suspended after testing positive for a masking agent during a random drug test. (These drugs are sometimes known as "water pills" because they can be used to "wash" illicit substances from a player's system.)

According to the report, the Williamses are awaiting an appeal hearing. There is no confirmation on how many games they would be suspended, but New Orleans offensive lineman Jamar Nesbit received a four-game suspension for what was reported to be a similar violation.

The Vikings already have lost middle linebacker E.J. Henderson for the season because of a foot injury. If they're forced to play a stretch of games without either Williams, their once-feared run defense will be a shell of its former self.

(A quick aside: Can you even name the Vikings' backup defensive tackles? It took me a second. It's a three-man group that includes veterans Ellis Wyms and Fred Evans, along with rookie Letroy Guion.)

The Williamses have started all 39 games next to each other since coach Brad Childress installed a one-gap system. The results have been astounding: The Vikings led the NFL in rush defense for the past two seasons and rank No. 2 this season after Sunday's games. Kevin Williams was named to the Associated Press All-Pro team each year, and Pat Williams made his first Pro Bowl in 2007.

Whether they are ultimately suspended -- and the timing of the punishment -- will be determined by the NFL appeals process. But before anyone asks, I'm aware of no precedent for intentionally staggering the suspensions to lighten the blow on the Vikings. Other sports have manipulated multiple suspensions, but usually to ensure that a team can put the required number of players on the field.

The Vikings will return to the practice field Monday after their bye week. Both Williamses are scheduled to be there -- for now. If nothing else, however, the Vikings are looking at the possibility of their greatest strength transforming into a huge weakness with one strike of an arbitrator's gavel.