Former Bruin to see enhanced role for Broncos
Denver Broncos wide receiver Matt Willis is having the best year of his career.
On Saturday night when the Broncos head into Foxborough to take on the Patriots in the Divisional round of the NFL Playoffs, the former UCLA Bruin will have the largest role of his life.
With the knee injury sustained by Eric Decker last week in the 29-23 Wild Card win over the Steelers in overtime, Willis will be called on to be Tim Tebow's third receiver behind Demaryius Thomas and Eddie Royal.
Willis, who prepped at Servite High School before playing at UCLA, entered the 2011 season with two career catches in his previous three NFL seasons. This season he's become a formidable option in the pass game, making 18 receptions for 267 yards and a touchdown, while also handling his primary duties on special teams.
"That's been my role — sort of the fill-in guy," Willis told the Denver Post. "It's a lot of work (learning multiple positions), but I enjoy it. I like playing, so it's worth it."
His versatility has been a valuable asset to the Broncos. As a receiver, he can line up anywhere on the field, giving him the ability to fill in for anybody. The ability to do that takes a huge strain off of the coaching staff.
"He's a role player that knew he wasn't going to get a ton of snaps this year," offensive coordinator Mike McCoy told the Denver Post. "But the great thing is, when he had to go in, as coaches, you never have to worry about it."
Arguably, his biggest catch of the season came in Week 7, when late in the fourth quarter, he caught a 42-yard pass from Tebow to get the Broncos into enemy territory to set up Denver's first score of the game in their comeback win over the Miami Dolphins after trailing 15-0 in the fourth quarter.
While he enjoyed having his moment to shine, the majority of the time he's watched Decker, Royal, and Thomas make big plays. Willis' lone touchdown catch of the season came from former Broncos quarterback, Kyle Orton, back in September. He's looking forward to catching a touchdown of his own from Tebow in an enhanced role on Saturday.
"It's always exciting when you see those guys make big plays," Willis said Wednesday. "You want to be a part of it and make a big play yourself."
Willis, who made 21 appearances in a UCLA uniform, made 24 receptions in his career in Westwood. He was signed by the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent, and is in his third season in Denver.