Ravens set to run with Williams

Ex-Viking expected to sign today, vie for starting RB job

Was with Billick in Minnesota

Veteran also solid on special teams

September 04, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The Ravens will once again tap their Minnesota Vikings pipeline.

In an effort to shore up a suspect running game, the Ravens are expected to sign Moe Williams as early as today. A long-time backup in Minnesota, he will be given the chance to battle Terry Allen for the starting running back job.

Williams, 27, would be the fifth former Viking to join the Ravens' present roster, joining Allen, receiver Qadry Ismail, quarterback Randall Cunningham and fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo. Ravens coach Brian Billick has ties with all those players from his days as Minnesota's offensive coordinator.

The Ravens wasted little time in picking up Williams, a surprise cut Sunday by the Vikings. As a six-year veteran, he did not have to pass through waivers and could sign with any team upon his release.

A 6-foot-1, 210-pound back, Williams visited the Ravens' Owings Mills practice complex last night and will sign with the team pending a physical this morning. The Ravens then would have to make a player move to fit him onto their 53-man roster.

His familiarity with Billick's offense may allow him to play in Sunday's season opener against the Chicago Bears. Williams' expertise on special teams also raised his stock with the Ravens.

"I definitely look forward to it [signing]," Williams told The Sun. "They got the same system here. It was funny because Coach Billick was asking me questions on who I'd block in certain situations and I knew right away. We do the same exact thing in Minnesota."

Williams' training camp with the Vikings went from promising to shocking.

After Vikings career rushing leader Robert Smith retired this off-season, Minnesota staged an open competition for the job with Williams, Doug Chapman and Michael Bennett, the team's top pick in last April's draft.

At one time atop the depth chart, Williams dropped to the bottom after a sprained left foot in the first week of camp kept him sidelined for the first three preseason games. In the finale at Miami, Williams returned to make the biggest impact of the three tailbacks, producing 52 yards on five carries including a 26-yarder.

But that performance didn't save him as the Vikings traded with the Cleveland Browns for Travis Prentice on Sunday.

The Ravens, though, aren't concerned about his foot injury after his strong effort against the Dolphins.

"It's a little sore, which is just the healing process," Williams said. "But other than that, I'm ready to go. Once it gets warmed up, it's 100 percent."

A third-round pick out of Kentucky in 1996, Williams never had the opportunity to establish himself as a running back with the Vikings, with Smith firmly fixed as the starter. Instead, he earned a spot on the roster by becoming a special teams ace.

In five seasons, he totaled 195 yards and two touchdowns on 69 carries (2.8 yards a carry) in limited action at running back. On special teams, he has returned kickoffs and been among the Vikings' leaders on coverage tackles the past two seasons.

Still, the Ravens see untapped potential in Williams and will move him into their running back-by-committee with Allen and Jason Brookins. Since losing Jamal Lewis to a knee injury, the Ravens have been trying to lessen their void in the backfield.

Billick has seen Williams' impact when given a chance. In December 1998 against the Bears, he replaced an injured Robert Smith for his first and only start. On the first play, Williams broke a short screen pass for 64 yards but sustained a season-ending foot injury when he was tackled.

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