New 'Warrior' in middle is liking his surroundings

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 8, 2011 - 4:10 PM

Remi Ayodele, heir to Pat Williams on the Vikings D-line, is more excited than awestruck about the challenge.

Remi Ayodele was sauntering off a Winter Park practice field earlier this week. He was wearing a skull cap that hid from view the current state of the dramatic Mohawk that he's been known to feature.

A reporter tried to schmooze, saying, "You must have been a Grand Prairie [Texas] Gopher."

Ayodele shook his head and said, "No, sir. I'm a Warrior. I went to South Grand Prairie."

The Vikings are in need of Ayodele fulfilling that nickname, for he is being asked to replace a noble veteran who was in the middle of the defense for a half-dozen years.

Pat Williams came from Buffalo as a free agent for the 2005 season. He teamed with Kevin Williams at the tackles, but there was little to support the Williams Wall on the end or at linebacker.

The Vikings finished 19th against the rush. And the fact that Mike Tice's last bunch came in at 9-7 remains one of the mysteries of this franchise.

A half-hour after the season ended, Tice was fired. Brad Childress came in as the coach, hired Mike Tomlin as his coordinator, and they made clear the defensive plan: Start by stopping the run.

The new staff could talk about this boldly, knowing that Pat Williams was a wily, aggressive, gigantic nose tackle capable of occupying two gaps in the middle on every running down.

The Vikings were No. 1 against the rush in 2006 with 985 yards allowed and 2.8 yards per carry. This put Tomlin on the radar for head coach interviews, and he landed the job in Pittsburgh.

Childress hired Leslie Frazier and the Vikings stayed on top: No. 1 against the rush in 2007 with 1,185 yards allowed and 3.1 per carry; No. 1 in 2008 with 1,230 yards allowed and 3.3 per carry; and No. 2 in 2009 with 1,394 yards allowed and 3.9 per carry.

It was a stretch of serious run stoppage -- with Pat Williams in the middle for all of it.

Last season turned into a 6-10 disaster. Williams turned 38 during the season and his effectiveness waned. The Vikings again allowed 3.9 yards per rush, although this time it was for 1,635 yards, ranking ninth in the NFL.

The Vikings decided to go younger. They signed Ayodele, 28, when the lockout ended -- a three-year deal that could pay him $9 million.

"I wasn't anxious to leave the [New Orleans] Saints," Ayodele said. "I thought about going back there for a little less money. Guys I played with, and friends of mine, said, 'The Vikings want you. It's a good team. Take the best deal.'

"Playing in New Orleans, winning the Super Bowl, was great. But being here with two of the best, Kevin Williams and Jared Allen, and with Robie [Brian Robison] ready to make some noise at end ... I like this front a lot."

Ayodele said he never has met Pat Williams, who remains out of a job on opening week of the NFL season.

"I watched a lot of Pat, though," Ayodele said. "You talk about playing nose guard, about a big guy plugging up the middle ... Big Pat is the original. He was the best for a long time."

Ayodele is listed at 6-2 and 318 pounds. That estimate might be a touch light, although not as far off as was Pat Williams' weight when listed at 317. To the eye, Ayodele is not as massive of a man as Williams.

And what Williams had with that mass were exceptional feet to get in position where two blockers were required. Take away the double-team from Kevin Williams, and all Hades broke loose for an opposing offense.

One disturbing fact about the San Diego opener: The Williams Wall will be missing in its entirety, with Kevin Williams suspended for two games after final resolution of the StarCaps episode.

Ayodele will be lined up next to Letroy Guion. Big shoes?

"Yeah, for both of us, but Letroy ... he's going to be an all-day sucker for the other guy,'' Ayodele said. "He brings it every play. That's what I like about this defense. Everybody comes to play."

Warriors? "Yeah, a bunch of them," he said.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. • preusse@startribune.com

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