ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Linebacker D.J. Williams' ninth NFL season was shorted nine games by a suspension.
But the longest-tenured Bronco -- tied with cornerback Champ Bailey -- returned to the locker room on Monday, and made it clear he's ready to get to work and put his suspension behind him.
"During the whole time, I learned a lot about myself, about my true character," Williams said. "I was really by myself, alone, working out and things like that. Had to stay dedicated, stay concentrated."
Throughout his two-and-a-half-month absence, Williams worked at the University of Miami to stay in shape. For the last three weeks of the suspension, he was back in Denver working with the club's strength coaches, getting re-accustomed to the altitude.
He said at times it was hard to stay motivated with such a long suspension ahead of him, but now that he's back on the active roster, he's glad he stuck it out.
"I just tried to keep a positive mindset," he said. "The only thing that I could control was staying in shape."
That determination throughout his suspension has Williams ready to jump back into the fray as soon as his number is called, but he didn't shy away from the fact that it might take him a little while to get back to his old self.
"Without being out there for a long time, there will be some rust," he said. "But football is a great sport to come back to, because when in doubt, just hit somebody."
Williams has done plenty of that in his career, as he led the Broncos in tackles the last three seasons and owns five 100-tackle campaigns.
He has started at least 14 games in each of the previous four seasons, but knows he will have to earn back his spot as the linebacker trio of Von Miller, Keith Brooking and Wesley Woodyard has played well in his absence.
"I'm not anticipating anything," Williams said. "I hope sooner or later I can get back to the role I had previously, before I left. I realize it's going to be difficult just to jump back into that. I'm ready to go whenever they throw me out there."
Head Coach John Fox said Williams' role will essentially be up to him.
"I just know a season ago he was arguably our best linebacker and we'll work him back in," Fox said. "He's a good football player. He's well-liked in that locker room. He's paid his dues and we welcome him back. We're excited to get him back. What his role exactly will be will be determined by how he practices and works back in, but we're excited to have him back."
Williams is just as excited to be back, and safety Rahim Moore said the linebacker has been all smiles since he rejoined the locker room.
"He's a playmaker," Moore said. "I know once he gets his legs up underneath him and once he gets in this mold that he was in last year, it's another addition to our team. So it's a good thing."
The silver lining, Williams said, is that his body is completely fresh 10 weeks into the season.
Most of all, he is appreciative of the team's decision to stick with him throughout the suspension.
"I'm very thankful," he said. "They could have went a different route and they decided to keep me around. I'm thankful of that. Now that I'm back, I'll just do what I have to do to help the team win."