Q: I'm as frustrated at the D.J. Williams issues as anyone, but I also recognize his talent. And given how well things are going for the Broncos now, it's exciting to think that we could be making a midseason "acquisition" of a linebacker with Williams' skills. Where do you see him fitting into the lineup and how much of an impact can he have given the amount of time missed?
A: Bill, the Broncos are frustrated with Williams' suspensions as well. But with the NFL rules regarding suspensions involving substance abuse (alcohol and/or illegal drugs, etc.), Williams has been able to attend team meetings and meetings with his position group of late.
He can also work out with the Broncos strength and conditioning staff. With his six-game suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancing substance policy, that was not the case. Williams could not go to the Broncos' Dove Valley complex during that suspension.
During the current three-game suspension, which ends the day after the Broncos play the Panthers in Charlotte, N.C., Williams can be in the building. So, he won't be as far behind in terms of his conditioning and ability to work in the Broncos' new defensive scheme when he is reinstated.
He was also in training camp, so he's been around the team when things were installed.
So, if he's ready physically, and after three weeks with the team's strength and conditioning staff there is no reason he shouldn't be, Williams should be able to quickly contribute in some way.
That said, the question will be how. Wesley Woodyard has played in what was once Williams' weakside spot in the 4-3 base defense. Woodyard is the team's leading tackler and is coming off his best game as a pro with 13 tackles, a sack, forced fumble and an interception in the Broncos' win over the Saints.
To take him off the field to play Williams on the weak side doesn't make sense. And to take Von Miller out of the strong side to play Williams doesn't make sense, though when Williams sent some items from the playbook on Twitter in the preseason about his "position change," it had to do with the strongside spot.
The Broncos like what Keith Brooking has done at middle linebacker. Williams has started a full season at each of the three linebacker spots in a 4-3 defense during his career with the Broncos, but in the past he has consistently said publicly it's his least favorite spot to play.
Which is why upon his return it would be no shock, in fact look for it in some situations, for the Broncos to play a 3-4 look once in a while and simply play all four of the linebackers with Miller and Woodyard as outside linebackers, Brooking and Williams on the inside.
The key to making that work, especially on early downs, would be to find a way for Elvis Dumervil to play in the defensive line. Dumervil would be undersized for that duty in any 3-4 look, so the Broncos could go with a more traditional three-man look up front with Derek Wolfe, Kevin Vickerson and Justin Bannan up front and use Dumervil in a rotational role, with the focus being on passing downs.
Dumervil also led the league in sacks, with 17, as an outside linebacker in the 3-4. He then played down in a three-point stance for most of those sacks.
The Broncos align themselves at times like a 3-4 defense, even though their scheme is a 4-3, with multiple fronts and personnel packages. That will only increase with Williams' return.
They also have a three-linemen, three-linebacker package they use in their nickel defense (five defensive backs), and Williams would certainly be a candidate in that look as well.
Beyond Miller, Broncos coach John Fox has said Williams is potentially one of the impact players the Broncos have at the position. So, Fox figures to use Williams plenty just as soon as the veteran is in uniform.