Kevin Williams appears to have avoided disaster on a hit to his right knee that could've done much more damage.
Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said he is hopeful to have his star defensive tackle on the field for the season opener in Detroit, but that bit of good news did little to quell the outcry from some of his Pro Bowl teammates after the NFL said San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Joe Looney would not face any discipline for the block in the third quarter of Sunday night's preseason game.
Jared Allen and Chad Greenway both called the hit a dirty play and said the league's focus on player safety seems to hold defensive players to a much different standard than their counterparts on offense.
"I have a problem when we talk about player safety in this league and we have a clear case of a guy intentionally trying to hurt a guy and we do nothing about it," said Allen, who has been fined several times in the past for hits. "We pat him on the back and say it's OK."
The collision occurred on a running play to the right. Williams was about 10 yards away from the play and started back to his right when Looney went down and hit him in the knee. An MRI revealed no ligament damage to Williams' knee and the Vikings said he had a significant bruise and a hyperextension. Frazier said on Tuesday that Williams was listed as day to day. He did not practice on Tuesday. The Vikings open the regular season at Detroit on Sept. 8.
"It definitely could've been worse," Frazier said. "The fact that we have a chance to have him back for Detroit is big for our football team."
Frazier said he spoke to league officials about the hit.
"There's a big emphasis regarding player safety and that play really endangers our players' safety," Frazier said. "It's not something that the league wants. It's not something that any of us want as we are trying to make the game safer for our players."
The NFL said Looney's hit was a legal play because Looney was not moving toward his own goal line, which is the definition for a peel-back block that has recently been outlawed by the league.
"It is the type of play, however, that after the season the Competition Committee will look at with respect to player safety," NFL spokesman Randall Liu said in an email.
That didn't sit well with linebacker Chad Greenway, who called the hit "uncalled for" and "quite ridiculous."
"Now we have a guy that's been one of the best at his position for a long time and dealing with an injury he didn't have to deal with," Greenway said. "The reality is if the roles were reversed, and it was a defensive guy going into a quarterback or a receiver or a high-profile player, you tell me what's going to happen. We've seen the fines. We've seen what's gone on in this league.
"I think you have to be consistent. If you're going to go down that route, you better be consistent with every player, offense, defense, no matter what number's on the back of your jersey."
San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh said Tuesday that Looney was not trying to hurt Williams, who is entering his 11th season and has made the Pro Bowl six times.
"It was an unfortunate play. I don't think it was a dirty play," Harbaugh said. "I don't think it was intentional. I don't think there was any malice on the part of Joe Looney."
Facing a lawsuit from thousands of former players alleging the league turned a blind eye to evidence that concussions suffered during games led to long-term health issues, the league has cracked down hard in recent years on hits deemed excessive, particularly against what they call "defenseless players." The primary beneficiaries of the new rules, and the heavy fines that are levied against players who break them, have been quarterbacks and receivers.
Allen said it's time defensive players start getting the same treatment.
"You go back and look at that play and you tell me he's not a defenseless player," Allen said. "He has no idea that that guy is there, and that dude could've taken him up high. He could've hit him right in the chest and he chose to duck down and hit him in his knee. Needless to say, I'm a little upset about it."