More and More Moe
Good players put up good numbers. But by their own admission, sometimes they get lost in them.
In his career with the Vikings, running back Moe Williams has gone from special-teams maven to third-down specialist to goal-line guru to the offense's featured back. Last week against the Chicago Bears, Williams' wore all of his evolutionary hats in the same game.
But in the NFL of the new millennium, when fantasy football stats are more important than final scores to most football fans (just ask network TV execs), Williams's contributions get bogged down in the numbers.
Don't be mistaken. Williams' numbers are solid.
With Pro Bowl running back Michael Bennett rehabbing a fractured foot and Doug Chapman still nursing a sore Achilles' heel, Williams, who scored 11 touchdowns for the Vikings last season as a third-down and goal-line specialist, was elevated to being the team's every down back.
Those who know Williams aren't surprised he responded.
"His role has always changed here and he's always adapted to it," Vikings running back coach Dean Dalton said. "Currently, he is the guy.
The guy rushed for a team-high 80 yards in the season opener against Green Bay, then ran for 108 yards against Chicago.
Instantly, he becomes en vogue to the Purple's followers.
But Williams' production when he carries the ball only cracks the surface of why the Vikings worked feverishly to lure him back to Minnesota, after he spent the 2001 season in Baltimore.
"We did fight to get him back from Baltimore," Dalton said. "I told him that this is his home and that his year with the Ravens was a one-year vacation."
The Vikings are glad the vacation is over.
Williams' value to the team is immeasurable. What went unnoticed to many viewing Sunday's game against Chicago was a series of back-to-back plays when Williams never touched the ball.
Bears linebacker Bryan Knight was blitzing toward quarterback Daunte Culpepper. Williams picked up the blitz, and stopped Knight not once, not twice, but three straight times in the same play.
"I have a philosophy if I get in the way and if he hits me, it doesn't matter what he does to me if he knocks me down," Williams said. "As long as he's not hitting Daunte, then I did my job."
On the next play, Culpepper dropped back to pass again. This time, the blitzing linebacker was Brian Urlacher, the NFL's most dominant defensive player. Williams delivered a blow just above the belt and raised Urlacher off his feet.
"He's a warrior," head coach Mike Tice said. "He's a tough, smart football player who's come a long way since we drafted him in the third round from Kentucky. He's really grown up and played solid football for us right now. We'd be lost without him."
Tice's comments aren't focused solely on offense.
At halftime Sunday night, Tice's biggest gripe was with the kick coverage. Kicker Aaron Elling was booting kickoffs to the 5-yard line, but the Bears returners were running the kicks back to the 40.
Williams interrupted Tice during his halftime rant and not only took over as the deliverer of the tongue lashing, but inserted himself into the lineup on the coverage teams.
"Coach had expressed his concern and it's kind of like second nature to me," Williams said. "I felt it was something I could go out there and do to help the team."
A good example
Fans will rave about the touchdowns. Rushing yardage has sex appeal to fans, too. But the coaches appreciate his work ethic and attitude as much as any first down he ever runs for.
"Moe has a desire to win and it's contagious and the young guys will learn from that guy and pay attention," Tice said.
On a team full of youth, Williams is a walking textbook.
"Not only has Moe been a great role player, but currently he's a great role model. He's showing the young guys how to be a pro," running backs coach Dean Dalton said. "He's showing the young guys how to approach the game. The extra work, the extra film, the extra studying…; Moe has been valuable to this team."
His true value is just being learned.
Troy Young is a Post-Bulletin sports writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org