EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings went to work Thursday without their star defensive tackles. Perhaps it will serve as good practice, to learn what playing without them would be like.
Four-game suspensions loom for both Pro Bowl players if their appeals are denied.
"I try not to think about that," safety Darren Sharper said. "That's a nightmare. You don't like to have nightmares. I'll let that thought not cross my mind."
The process is supposed to be confidential, but reports last month said the Williamses tested positive for the weight-loss substance the league considers a masking agent for steroids.
Several other NFL players are in the same situation, including three from New Orleans who had their hearing earlier in the week; their lawyer has argued they were misled. Two others have filed suit against the manufacturer of StarCaps, an over-the-counter pill containing Bumetanide; they claim it wasn't listed as an ingredient.
Also unclear is how long the league will take to rule on these cases. Angelo Wright, the agent for Pat Williams, said he believed it would be another week before they learn of the decision. Vikings coach Brad Childress and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said separately they were unsure when they would find out.
"I have no idea what the proceeding will be, but you always have to prepare for the worst and that's what we're doing," said Frazier, who was in New York on Tuesday to support defensive end Jared Allen as he successfully lobbied to avoid a suspension for a spate of late hits. He was fined $25,000 instead.
Childress said he hoped to have the Williamses back for Friday's practice. Sharper said he was planning on it. Given the timing of their trip, there doesn't appear to be much risk of losing them for this week's game against the Jaguars. Beyond that, there are no guarantees.
"I have no expectation," Childress said. "That's, again, up to the league."
Though he has played through elbow and knee problems, Pat Williams has not missed a game since he played for Buffalo in 2001, when a leg injury sidelined him for the last three weeks. Kevin Williams has started 90 of a possible 92 games since he was drafted by Minnesota in 2003. He missed two games with a sprained knee in 2005.
They're the backbone of Minnesota's stiff run defense, which led the league in fewest yards allowed each of the last two seasons and ranks second this year behind Pittsburgh with an average of 73.9 per game.
"I hope it's not a possibility," Sharper said. "I don't want to think that it is because I know how vital those players, Kevin and Pat, are to our defensive team."
The Vikings typically install their game-specific schemes for third down, short-yardage and goal-line situations on Thursdays, and Frazier said he'll have to review the packages on Friday to bring the Williamses up to speed.
"They are the meat and potatoes of what we do inside," Frazier said, adding: "Those guys are pivotal to our success in that area. So it makes a big difference, and it causes us to almost be a day behind because of it."