Woodyard enjoying a breakout season for Broncos

Wesley Woodyard has no intention of slipping back into a

substitute role when D.J. Williams returns from his nine-game,

NFL-mandated banishment next month.

The Broncos have no plans of letting him off the field, either.

He’s the first Denver defender to record 50 tackles with multiple

sacks (three) and interceptions (two) before the midway point of

the season.

The fifth-year linebacker was a one-man wrecking crew in the

Broncos’ 34-14 thrashing of Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints

last weekend, getting 13 tackles, two pass breakups, a sack and

strip, and a game-turning interception.

”I noticed I was around the ball a lot,” Woodyard said.

The Saints managed just one first down, rushed for only 51 yards

and didn’t reach the red zone until just before the two-minute

warning Sunday night.

Woodyard was the biggest reason for that. Yet he’s not one to

bask in the afterglow of his monster prime-time performance.

”I’ve still got a lot to do to get better,” Woodyard said.

”It’s definitely one of the games I’ll look back on and say I made

a lot of plays. But I only focus on those few plays that I gave

up.”

Asked what he could have possibly done any better against New

Orleans, Woodyard was quick with his answer: ”Just better dropping

in coverage. I wish I could take that Darren Sproles touchdown

back. You know, I feel like I let the team down on that. So, I’ve

got to be a lot better with my eyes and play better to take away

that play.”

Woodyard leads the Broncos with 58 tackles, 14 more than

runner-up Mike Adams, a big jump for a guy who spent his first four

seasons playing mostly on special teams.

Woodyard got his chance when Williams, the team’s leading

tackler in four of the last five seasons, was suspended for the

first six games for violating the league’s policy on

performance-enhancing substances.

The NFL tacked on a three-game suspension over his

alcohol-related driving conviction in August, pushing Williams;’

return back to Nov. 18, when the Broncos play San Diego.

”It’s always good to have a guy that can roll in,” said

Woodyard. ”D.J., with his experience, that allows us to be able to

play a lot of different things and do a lot of different things

with him.”

It’s almost certain that one of those roles won’t be his old

starting job at weak side linebacker, the position Woodyard won

with an outstanding training camp and now has a stranglehold hold

on.

With Joe Mays being placed on injured reserve Tuesday after

breaking his left ankle blocking on a punt return against the

Saints, Williams might end up sharing snaps at middle linebacker

with 15-year veteran Keith Brooking when he returns to practice

Nov. 12.

The Broncos haven’t revealed their plans for Williams. What they

do know is that Woodyard is too valuable to take off the field

anymore.

”He was primarily a special teams guy when we got here,”

second-year coach John Fox said. ”But he’s got good straight-line

speed. He does have good instincts.”

Woodyard wasn’t drafted out of Kentucky, the knock on him being

his size – 6 feet, 229 pounds – which many scouts felt was too

small to be an every-down player in the pros.

He’s risen up to that challenge this year.

”There have been guys who have played at the highest level of

this league who haven’t been big guys,” said defensive coordinator

Jack Del Rio, himself a former linebacker. ”He’s done a good job.

He’s played well. He’s practicing with intensity, which we like.

And he’s done a good job playing for us in a role that’s kind of

gotten bigger maybe than he thought it might be entering the year

and we thought it might be entering the year.”

Woodyard is like the gambler who won’t count his stack of chips

until the dealing’s done, downplaying all the big plays he’s been

making.

”I focus on the little things that I did wrong,” Woodyard

said. ”I feel like I left some plays out there. I’ve got to

continue to get better.”

Notes: The Broncos promoted S Duke Ihenacho to take Mays’ roster

spot, and they signed CB Mario Butler to replace Ihenacho on their

practice squad. Ihenacho, a rookie from San Jose State, spent two

weeks on Denver’s active roster earlier this season.

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