RENTON — When the Seattle Seahawks hosted the Minnesota Vikings last season, Brandon Mebane asked Kevin Williams if the two could exchange jerseys after the game, one veteran defensive lineman showing his respect for another.
Mebane couldn’t have known it at the time, but he and Williams, one of the NFL’s best interior linemen over the last decade, would be teammates a season later, and now, due to an unfortunate season-ending injury, Mebane is helping “coach” a player he has looked up to for much of his career.
For almost his entire career with the Vikings, Williams started at the three-technique tackle spot, meaning he lines up shaded outside the offensive guard. He came to Seattle not to be a starter, but to be part of a deep rotation that would help him stay fresh at age 34, while also giving him a chance to play for a contender.
But when Mebane went down with a season-ending hamstring injury in Week 10, Williams took over the starting nose tackle role, meaning not only a slight increase in playing time, but a different role for a player who became a six-time Pro Bowler and five-time first-team All-Pro as a three-technique tackle. Playing in Mebane’s nose tackle spot, Williams now lines up across from the center, meaning the action is upon him quicker, and that his responsibilities are often different.
“With it being a different position, I’m trying to improve every week,” Williams said. “Playing 11 years at under-tackle, then moving to nose these last seven or eight games was a little bit different, but I try not to complicate it; just do my job, get my hands on the guy and react. Some plays I don’t do so well, some I do really well, but the thing is just keep improving and picking it up and seeing it faster.”
Williams has turned to Mebane for tips on playing nose, a spot he rarely played in Minnesota, saying, “I’m picking his brain every chance I get. I tell him, ‘check me out every chance you get and tell me what I can pick up on faster.’”
Mebane dismisses the idea of him being able to help a veteran of Williams’ stature.
“Kevin helps me,” Mebane said. “(Shoot) man, he’s 12-years in, there ain’t too much I can tell him.”
Eventually Mebane admits he does what he can to help out, acting as an extra set of eyes on game day, relaying “What I’m seeing out there, how they’re trying to block him, things like that. Just let him know, ‘This is what they’re about to do, they’re changing the blocks up, they’re not staying on you no more, they’re going to the linebackers.’ Things like that, just extra eyes. I mean, he’s 12 years, I can’t tell him how to play. If anything I can learn stuff from him.”
Just as was the case when Mebane was playing nose tackle, Williams’ impact isn’t seen in his numbers — he has 12 tackles and two sacks in seven starts since Mebane’s injury — but he has undoubtedly been be a big part of Seattle’s late-season defensive dominance as the Seahawks have survived the loss Mebane, who was playing the best football of his career up until the injury.
“Kevin is a big part of our defense, obviously,” said defensive end Michael Bennett. “For him to coming here as a Pro Bowl D-tackle, he’s obviously one of the best D-tackles to ever play the game at three-technique, and to come in and play nose, it’s a very difficult position to play, and he’s done it really well. He’s made a lot of plays for us, he’s done a lot of big things, and his leadership is the most important thing that he brings.”
Williams’ impact has been felt off the field as well this season. As talented as Seattle’s defense is, it’s also still very young, getting much of its leadership from players who are still relatively early in their careers like Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Bobby Wagner.
While young leadership isn’t a bad thing, there is value in having a seasoned veteran around as well. With players like Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and Michael Robinson gone, Williams has helped fill a void in that department.
“He’s brought a tremendous amount of consistency and professionalism,” cornerback Richard Sherman said. “I don’t think you can say enough about his professionalism, from his work habits to his preparation for the games, how he carries himself during the game. There’s a reason he’s All-Pro and Pro Bowl for so long and is still playing in this league, and playing at a high level. He brings an incredibly valuable element to our team.”
While Williams is playing well in his new role and helping the Seahawks defense play at a high level, he can admit that his current position isn’t necessarily his favorite.
“Hey, I’m just trying to win, man,” he said. “I’ve been doing OK, pretty good, but I still love three-technique.”
But don’t take that as a complaint. When Williams signed with Seattle in the offseason, one of the reasons he stated for coming here was a chance to play for a contender after never going to a Super Bowl in his 11 years with the Vikings. With two more home wins, the Seahawks and their veteran lineman playing a new position can accomplish just that.
“To have a chance and to be in this situation that I’m in, I couldn’t ask for anything more,” Williams said. “We just need to close it out and finish strong.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com