ENGLEWOOD – It looks like D.J. Williams will make his first start of 2012 when the Broncos play in Oakland on Thursday.
With linebacker Wesley Woodyard doubtful after missing the last two days of practice with a sprained right ankle that he suffered in Sunday’s 31-23 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Williams is poised to return to the starting lineup at weakside linebacker for the first time since losing the first-team job to the ascendant Woodyard during nine games of suspensions earlier this year.
“It will definitely affect the defense. He’s been playing well for us — really all season,” said linebacker Von Miller when asked about the impact of Woodyard’s potential absence. “But D.J., he’s ready to go. If Wood can’t go, D.J. will step right in that position.
“That’s the same thing that Wood did for D.J. at the beginning of (last) year. I think D.J. will be ready to go, and he’ll take advantage of the opportunity.”
Williams has played 54 snaps the last three games since returning from his suspensions, mostly seeing time in the Broncos’ nickel package, where he has split time with rookie Danny Trevathan as one of the two linebackers in that formation.
“We feel confident in both those guys,” Broncos coach John Fox said.
There was some concern that Williams would be rusty upon his return, but that fear was quickly allayed. Williams was allowed to be at the team facility during the last three weeks of his suspensions, and had worked out during the previous seven weeks (including a bye) that he was absent.
“I think when he came back, he didn’t seem really rusty to me. He still was in really good shape. He looked pretty good,” Miller said. “He had been paying attention in meetings; he was on top of everything. It’s just getting back in the game and playing.”
Woodyard is the Broncos’ leading tackler and one of their most explosive players, particularly against the pass. He has four sacks already this year and was on pace for 5.5, which would match Williams’ single-season career high, and his three interceptions this year are one more than Williams has in his entire career.
Wide receiver Brandon Stokley is questionable with a hip injury, but practiced on a limited basis for the second consecutive day. Look for him to be a game-time decision … Wide receiver Matt Willis practiced fully, three days after hurting his knee, and is listed as probable for Thursday..
The Broncos wrapped up their compressed work week with a practice Wednesday afternoon. This is the first time since 2008 that the Broncos have traveled for a Thursday night game; they won that last mid-week trip, defeating Cleveland 34-30.