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Notebook: Williams Glad to be Back

Posted Nov 18, 2012

Linebacker D.J. Williams returns from his suspension, cornerback Chris Harris slows down Antonio Gates and the third-down defense remains stifling.

DENVER – For linebacker D.J. Williams, there’s a big difference between merely being around the game and strapping on the helmet and shoulder pads for live action.

“It’s 100 percent better,” Williams said. “When you’re just in the locker room, one of the guys, you kind of feel like you don’t deserve things until you get out there and actually produce and help your team win.”

After serving a nine-game suspension to open the season, Sunday night’s win over the Chargers marked Williams’ first taste of the gridiron since Jan. 14, the final game of the Broncos’ 2011 campaign. Head Coach John Fox said Williams’ effort to stay in shape throughout the suspension paid dividends.

“I thought he had a great week of preparation,” Fox said. “The guy obviously worked diligently while he was away from us so we were very happy to have him back. He made a mistake, paid his dues and without looking at the tape, I know he made a good play on a run through over toward their bench.”

Williams said the best part of suiting up again was the familiar feeling of sharing the field with his teammates.

“It feels great,” Williams said. “I’ve been playing football 17 years of my life, it’s basically all I know. It feels great to be in the locker room, the camaraderie with the guys, just go out there, go to war and go to battle and come home with the victory.”

Despite the long break from the game at a position as physical as linebacker, Williams did not feel any ill effects of his time away in his return, saying that if anything, he would have liked to absorb a few more hits.

“I feel good,” Williams said. “I feel like I could do a little bit more, but that’s up to the coaches. They’re working me in slowly. The way it is here, we have to earn the play. So just keep grinding in practice and hopefully I can get out there more.”

Veteran cornerback Champ Bailey, who is tied with Williams as the longest-tenured Bronco, said it’s hard to get back up to speed after extended time away. But from what Bailey saw, Williams looked anything but rusty.

“Working him in the mix today, that was beautiful for us,” Bailey said. “You don’t know what to expect, really, because he’s been out so long. But, he did exactly what I kind of expected. Nobody else knew it, but I know what type of person he is and how much he wants it. I’m just happy for him, we got it done and hopefully we can expand his role.”

HARRIS QUIETS GATES

Coming into Sunday’s game, one of Denver’s biggest priorities was stopping San Diego tight end Antonio Gates.

The tight end led his team in receiving in the Week 6 Broncos-Chargers matchup, hauling in six passes for 81 yards and two touchdowns.

“Think about the first game,” cornerback Chris Harris said. “He was the one that was killing us.”

It was that performance that made covering No. 85 a point of emphasis for the Broncos this week. But unlike many Chargers opponents who cover Gates with multiple defenders, Denver looked to Harris alone to take on Gates, often without any help.

“Most of the time, it was me and him,” Harris said. “A lot of times, we’d disguise it and have a little help on the inside. But other than that, I’m pretty much on him 1-on-1.”

Harris rose to the challenge, limiting Gates to just 17 yards receiving on two receptions.

“My responsibility this game was to hold Gates down and I felt like I contained Gates today,” Harris said.

With Gates quiet, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and the San Diego offense struggled to get going, starting the game 0-for-11 on third down conversions. Rivers and the Chargers offense were unable to find the end zone until the final minute of the third quarter.

THIRD-DOWN DOMINANCE

At this point, it’s hard to believe that Denver started the year with third-down defense as an area of concern.

The season opener, when the Broncos allowed the Steelers to convert 11-of-19 third down conversions, now seems like a distant memory.

With 11 straight unsuccessful third-down attempts by San Diego to start the game, Denver had forced opponents into 26 consecutive failed third-down conversions, dating back to the team’s Week 9 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. After closing the win over the Bengals by getting off the field on Cincinnati’s last three third-down plays, Denver shut out Carolina on the Panthers’ 12 third down attempts last week. Those performances, combined with the stingy start against the Chargers, marked the NFL’s longest streak without allowing a conversion in the last 10 years.

“Wow, I didn’t know that,” defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson said. “That was impressive.”

For many defensive players, third down is a favorable situation because it allows defenders to focus on putting pressure on the quarterback. But those circumstances only arise when strong run defense on the early downs puts offenses in predictable situations on third down. By limiting San Diego to just 53 yards rushing on 23 carries, that’s exactly what Denver was able to do to the Chargers offense.

“Especially at home, the crowd noise, we’re all looking at the ball, no more snap-count advantage,” defensive end Elvis Dumervil said of rushing the passer on third down. “I think we’re built for that. We get excited for that situation.”

Also helping the Broncos’ third down defense was solid play from the secondary, which gave the team’s pass rushers time to shed blocks and get to the quarterback.

“I think it all starts in the secondary,” said linebacker Von Miller, who recorded three sacks. “I don’t think our guys in the background get too much credit. We’ve got Champ Bailey out there locking down guys. Chris Harris. (Safety) Rahim Moore has been having a great season. I think that’s where it starts. We’ve got great guys that can rush the passer, but if you don’t have any time, you can’t get back there.”

INJURY UPDATE

Running back Willis McGahee appeared to be well on his way to a big night before a knee injury forced him to the sideline.

In limited action, McGahee picked up 55 yards on seven carries and added one reception for 18 yards. But he did not return after the injury as a safety precaution.

“It kind of swelled up so we’re just going to be precautionary,” Fox said. “We didn’t put him back in. We’ll evaluate him more moving forward. I won’t know any more than I do right now.”

In McGahee’s absence, running back Ronnie Hillman picked up 43 yards on 12 carries, with Lance Ball chipping in another 35 yards on just six carries. The running back by committee attack helped the Broncos pile up 133 yards as a team.

“Lance Ball stepped in,” Fox said. “Ronnie Hillman did a good job. We were shorthanded there. We even had emergency scenarios in case something happened to one of those guys. That’s what happens in football games – Willis goes down and both of those guys did very good jobs.”

While Fox is hopeful that McGahee will make a quick recovery, he’s confident that the team’s other backs can step up and contribute if necessary.

“We’re concerned about everything,” Fox said. “This is a week-to-week business and profession. We’ve got nothing but a tough division game in Kansas City. We’ve got (running back) Knowshon Moreno that wasn’t active today. We’ve got (running back) Jeremiah Johnson on the practice squad. We’ve got guys that we feel good about. We’d love to have Willis and it’s going to be a blow if we don’t, but we feel good about the running back position.”

Cornerback Omar Bolden also left the game with a concussion and did not return.

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