EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- When the Vikings arrived at training camp in July, coach Leslie Frazier outlined a plan to phase Sharrif Floyd into their defense while reducing the workload for 32-year-old tackle Kevin Williams. Frazier wanted Williams to play 30 to 35 snaps a game, with Floyd spelling him and possibly getting some work in the Vikings' nickel defense.
Williams initially bristled at the plan, saying he hoped he wouldn't have to share too many snaps with the rookie and Floyd could get on the field another way. Through five games, though, it's turned out the Vikings have had to rely on Williams much more than they had planned.
After missing the team's first game with a knee injury, Williams has played 40, 51, 52 and 51 snaps in the Vikings' last four games. Floyd got 42 snaps in the season opener with Williams out, but struggled in the 34-24 loss to the Lions, and has seen 24, 21, 27 and 19 snaps since then.
Frazier said after the first game that Floyd wasn't technically sound, adding "there were times when they were running the football, and you could see he was trying to pass rush." The rookie is "getting closer to being exactly what we all hoped for," Frazier said, but the Vikings still need to see him develop more.
"He’s done a very good job of separating from blocks," Frazier said. "He’s doing a lot of things better than he did two to three weeks ago and that’s encouraging because that just means he’ll keep getting better in November, December."
Frazier said "I don't know if we would want" Williams to play so many snaps for the entire season, and that's probably true for two reasons. First, Williams is still listed on the Vikings' injury report with the knee injury he sustained on Joe Looney's low preseason block in San Francisco, so the Vikings might need to reduce his workload to keep him fresh.
And then there's the second reason: Williams will be a free agent after the season, since he agreed to void the final year of his deal in exchange for a guaranteed $4.9 million base salary this year. The Vikings drafted Floyd with an eye toward him replacing Williams at the position, but so far, they've been at their best with Williams on the field. It's possible they could bring Williams back in 2014, but if they do move forward with Floyd, they probably want to give themselves some assurances they can succeed with the younger player.
It's likely not lost on the Vikings how much their young secondary has struggled after the decision to let Antoine Winfield go last March, and if Floyd can do some of his developing this year, the Vikings might be able to avoid a similar problem next season.