On Baltimore’s first offensive snap in Week 13, Broncos defensive lineman DeShawn Williams did the dirty work.
He stood up Ravens tight end Josh Oliver, wrestled with him a bit and then pushed him down the line of scrimmage into running back Gus Edwards, helping drop Edwards and driving Oliver onto his back in the process.
On the next series, Williams got some glory.
He used patience against left tackle Daniel Faalele to ensure quarterback Lamar Jackson didn’t dash out of the pocket, then went by Faalele and pinned Jackson in for a four-yard sack. Eleven-plus games into the season, Williams had his first sack.
The combination of smarts and hustle is nothing new for the 6-foot-1, 284-pound Williams, one of Denver’s less heralded defensive linemen, but it’s been finally paying off. He’d register another sack later in that game and 2.5 more on Sunday against Arizona. That 4.5-sack spurt more than doubles his career total and puts him third on the team this year behind Dre’Mont Jones (6.5) and Bradley Chubb (5.5).
“There’s still a lot more football to play,” Williams told The Post this week. “I’ve still got to get better in all phases and really just being an overall, complete player. Stopping the run and rushing the passer, being an effort guy, batting balls, stuff like that. … That’s just me being hard on myself, but there’s still a lot of ball to be played and these last three games, I just want to give it my best.”
Williams, 30, is in the midst of his best year as a professional. His 12 starts, 488 snaps and 51% play rate are all career-high marks. Against the Cardinals, in Denver’s first game after putting Jones on injured reserve with a hip injury, Williams tied his season high in both snaps (40) and play rate (62%).
“We count on him,” head coach Nathaniel Hackett said. “We always say, there’s a couple things you can control and that’s your attitude and your effort. He’s the epitome of that. You watch him when he’s rushing, he never stops. A couple of those sacks were second-effort sacks for him as the quarterback’s moving up, he’s able to round the corner and track that quarterback down.
“He’s been great in the run game. He’s done so many things that a guy that has been cut so many times, he takes advantage of every second he has. He loves being here. He has a great attitude. His effort is off the charts. Whenever there’s a ball thrown down the field, he’ll turn and run and go attack wherever the ball-carrier is.”
Williams has certainly had ups and downs in his career. Originally an undrafted free agent signed by Cincinnati in 2015, Williams didn’t see his first game time until appearing in four games in 2016. Then he bounced on and off practice squads in Cincinnati, Denver, Miami, Indianapolis and Denver again before trying his hand in the CFL, only to be cut by the Calgary Stampeders after eight months.
Then back to Denver in 2020, only to be cut, signed to the practice squad and, eventually, elevated to the active roster on Sept. 25, 2020.
He’s played in 43 of the Broncos’ 45 games since that day.
So waiting 13 weeks for a sack? That’s nothing. Williams’ career transaction log shows he’s been waived 12 times, including nine in three years between his last game with the Bengals and first with the Broncos.
“I’m so grateful for Bill Kollar, man,” Williams of the veteran coach who spent 2015-21 as Denver’s defensive line coach and now is a Broncos senior defensive assistant. “I don’t know what I’d be doing if he didn’t give me that call in August of 2020, and I’ve never looked back since. I’ve got a lot of people behind the scenes rooting for me, it’s paying off and I want to give them what they’re rooting for.”
Even with Kollar as a familiar face this year, Williams and the rest of the Broncos defense had to start fresh with a new coaching staff including defensive line coach Marcus Dixon and defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero. It didn’t take Williams long to make a positive impression.
“He’s got a great story and it’s really a testament to perseverance and beating the odds,” Evero said. “The work ethic, the day-to-day approach, since Day 1 until now, he’s been the same person. First one in, last one out. Works his butt off. Very coachable. So it’s not a surprise that when he gets on the field he has success because all he’s done is defy the odds.
“Sometimes the ability he has is a little understated because of his stature, but this guy not only is a very good football player, but he’s also been a great leader for us.”