EDEN PRAIRIE -- The competition opened up in the Minnesota Vikings' backfield by Michael Bennett's foot injury didn't initially include Moe Williams, mostly because he does everything well.
"Nothing great," coach Mike Tice said. "Nothing bad."
After a few weeks of training camp, though, it became clear to Vikings coaches that Williams, who shined as the short-yardage back last season, was their best option to be the featured runner.
Williams, who recorded career highs with 414 yards rushing, 251 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns in 2002 as a seventh-year player, will get the bulk of work in Sunday's opener at Green Bay.
"I didn't expect anything," Williams said. "In this league, once you get to expecting things, you set yourself up for disappointment. Because a lot of times it's not up to you."
Williams carved himself a niche as a solid special-teams player and kickoff returner after Minnesota drafted him in the third round out of Kentucky in 1996. He never had more than 69 yards in a season, though, until rushing for 291 with Baltimore in 2001.
The Ravens signed him that year after he was unexpectedly waived, but the Vikings -- attracted by his good hands, pass-blocking ability and professional attitude -- brought him back last year as a free agent.
Bennett had all the long gains, but Williams was the vulture who scooped up all the short touchdown runs and subsequently became a hero of sorts in the world of fantasy football.
"I think I got really known during the offseason," Williams said. "People just talking about fantasy football. They'd be like, 'Yeah, Moe, you scored me a lot of points.' So it was pretty cool."
As was the year in Baltimore.
"I think that was the best thing for my career," he said. "You've never really been in the NFL until you've been cut, you know? I think that was the one thing that brought it all home for me. You truly do try to take everything to the fullest."
Bennett, who won't be back until late October if at all this year, had surgery in July to fix a stress fracture in his foot. Doug Chapman and rookie Onterrio Smith were the leading candidates to replace him as the No. 1 tailback, because of Williams' value as a slashing, situational runner.
Chapman, however, has been nagged by injuries (a sprained ankle has him questionable for Sunday). Smith is still catching up after missing 14 developmental practices earlier this summer (a league rule kept him from participating until Oregon's school year ended) and the first two days of training camp (he held out).
That means mo' carries for Moe.
"He can handle the load if called upon," running backs coach Dean Dalton said. "That's the beauty of Moe. It's not just his physical toughness, but his mental toughness and his understanding of our system inside and out. He makes great adjustments during the course of a play.
"Football is full-contact chess, and you've got to understand what the other team's move is going to be and be able to react at full speed."
Williams never got much of a chance in the backfield mostly because of Robert Smith, the franchise's all-time leading rusher who surprisingly retired after the 2000 season. Another reason was that Williams struggled early in his career with pass protection in offensive coordinator Brian Billick's system.
"I remember when he first got here," Tice said. "Brian used to yell at him every day."
Now, he's what Tice calls the best pass blocker among the running backs
"He doesn't make many mistakes," Tice said. "Thank goodness he's here right now."
Notes: The Vikings were one of a handful of teams who had strong interest in safety Lawyer Milloy, who was cut by New England Tuesday and signed with Buffalo Wednesday. Milloy's asking price, however, was too high, and the team -- though it would've been happy to upgrade the position -- is pleased with the progress starter Brian Russell has made. ... Chapman practiced Wednesday, and he's listed as questionable for Sunday.
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