ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — For the first time in his career, DeShawn Williams didn't dread cutdown day.
As General Manager George Paton and the Broncos trimmed their roster to 53 players on Monday and Tuesday, Williams wasn't anxious about whether his phone would start to buzz.
Six years after entering the NFL as an undrafted defensive lineman from Clemson, Williams finally knew he was safe.
"It was weird," Williams said Tuesday. "… I didn't have to check my phone, looking at who's been cut or what number, if I got a [call from a] 303 or 720 number. I just went out the whole day, my wife and I, we just looked at each other like, 'We are not stressing.' It was wonderful. We didn't have to stress all day today or yesterday, so it was good."
Williams, an 11-game starter in 2020 for the Broncos, saw his stress vanish when he was pulled from the Broncos' game against the Rams and told he was done for the night. At that moment, he knew he'd showed enough last year and during the 2021 preseason to ensure his role as a key depth piece for Denver's defensive line.
The path to that moment was far from linear.
When Williams appeared in his first game for the Broncos — a Week 3 contest last year vs. Tampa — it was the first time in 1,373 days that he'd played in a regular-season game. Only three players last year — Aldon Smith, Bruce Miller and Woodrow Hamilton — played again after longer gaps between their action.
In the nearly four years between games, Williams spent time on the practice squads for the Broncos, Colts and Dolphins, and he signed with the Canadian Football League's Calgary Stampeders before COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the 2020 season.
After that initial 2020 action, Williams told DenverBroncos.com he was on the precipice of carving out a role in Denver.
"I feel like the Broncos, I can make my hay here," Williams said in October of 2020. "It's a great city, great organization, and I just love it here."
Last season's stat line — one interception, three passes defensed, two sacks, four tackles for loss, six quarterback hits and 37 tackles — suggested he was right to be optimistic. Add in his preseason production that includes another interception and a fumble recovery, and it seems the best may be yet to come.
"It feels great," Williams said of making the team. "It's been a long time. I wouldn't change the route. It made me better. It made me understand the game more. Cherish the little things like just putting the helmet on, going through that gate every day knowing that I can come in and do what I'm here to do for us. … I can't put it into words. … This is not like the end. This is just the beginning. Now I've got the season starting. I know I've got big things ahead for me and this team. So now I'm just ready to get started."
Head Coach Vic Fangio has seen both Williams' commitment to the game and his authentic excitement to be a member of the Broncos.
"You guys know all the good numbers that you can juice up your article with — how many days he was out of football and how many times he's been cut and all that," Fangio said Tuesday. "He was a guy we brought back last year. He hadn't played in a long time and took advantage of the situation, and he's made it very hard for us to not keep him. It's a great story. I know he appreciates each and every day that he's here. He tells me that. We love having him on the team."
Williams first day as an official member of Denver's initial 53-man roster ended on a practice field with his teammates huddled around him. Fangio recognized Williams for making the team, and his teammates erupted into cheers before heading off the field.
"It was great," Williams said afterward. "It just shows that this team, our coaching staff prides [itself] on players that work hard and don't give up. I know it's beating a dead horse, but look at Shelby [Harris], look at Mike [Purcell], look at [Bradley] Chubb — he was a first-round draft pick, but all the injuries he had to overcome — Von [Miller], what he overcame last year. Courtland [Sutton].
"We've got a bunch of guys that have overcome a lot of adversity. We could've just hung it up or listened to the people that said we weren't good enough for things like that, but we just kept working. I think this team, I think that's what our motive is goin to be — just not giving up. We've got a bunch of resilient guys on this team."