ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) -- Returning to a defense that didn't seem to miss him much, Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams is willing to do whatever it takes - even play special teams - to get back on the field after missing the first nine games of the season because of suspensions.
The ninth-year veteran, a former first-round draft pick, became eligible to regain his spot on the Denver roster Monday after missing six games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs, then another three as the result of his second alcohol-related driving conviction.
"I hope, sooner or later, I can get back to the role that I had before I left," said Williams, who has started all but six of his 120 career games in the NFL. "But I realize it's going to be difficult just to jump back into that. But I'm ready to go whenever they throw me out there."
Even if that means special teams?
"What, am I going to say `No,' and just throw my hands in the air?" he said. "At the end of the day, I'm a football player. I'll play whatever position they ask me to play."
The Broncos are expected to put Williams back on the roster later this week. Coach John Fox was noncommittal about the linebacker's role on the team, saying the coaching staff needs to see him practice before making any decisions. Williams led the Broncos in tackles in five of the past eight seasons.
"I haven't seen him since the end of last season," Fox said. "I just know a season ago he was, arguably, our best linebacker. We'll work him back in. He's been working out hard. We'll see how it comes together. He's another guy we can draw from. We'll see where it fits."
Though Williams is back with the Broncos, he still must serve a 30-day house arrest and two years of probation for his second alcohol-related conviction. That sentence is scheduled to start Feb. 7, 2013 -- four days after the Super Bowl. He also has forfeited in the neighborhood of $4 million, from a combination of lost salary, money he had to pay back from his bonuses and the restructuring of his contract he agreed to because of the suspensions.
Holding court in front of his locker Monday, Williams said he has run the gamut of emotions as he's watched the Broncos defense start slow, then get better as time passed. He said his mom was there for him and he worked out at his alma mater, University of Miami, "a close-knit family," he called it. The Broncos chose to keep Williams in their family, as well.
"I'm very thankful," he said. "They could have gone a different route. They decided to keep me around. I'm thankful for that. So, now that I'm back, I'll just do what I've got to do to help the team win."
On Sunday in a 36-14 win over Carolina, the defense recorded seven sacks, a touchdown and a safety. Linebacker Von Miller had a sack, a forced fumble and four tackles for a loss; he is now not only the best linebacker on this roster, but is being mentioned as a candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. The Broncos also have been getting big-time contributions from linebackers Wesley Woodyard and Keith Brooking, who have taken bigger roles in Williams' absence.
Williams adds it all up and knows he's lucky to still be on this team. His teammates, meanwhile, are happy to have him.
"He's been through a lot this year," safety Rahim Moore said. "I'm actually, as a friend, happy to see him back. He's smiling a lot more. So, it's a good thing. I know once he gets his legs back underneath him and once he gets into this mode that he was in last year, that's just another addition to our team."
Williams was allowed back to team headquarters on Oct. 16, after the six-game suspension was finished. But he has been relegated to the weight and meeting rooms and not allowed on the practice field.
With the way the team is playing -- and given Fox's reluctance to define a role for him - it's hard to imagine Williams regaining a starting role right away. He knows he's got some making up to do, both on the field and in the locker room.
"When you're watching games and things happen, you wish you could be out there watching your teammates," Williams said. "But you know, I did the crime, I've got to do the time. It's over with now. Hopefully I can move on and help my team continue to keep winning."