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Williams Struggles In Adjustment To Middle Linebacker

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) _ D.J. Williams isn't making anybody forget about Al Wilson.

The Broncos' middle linebacker has been slow to adjust to his new position after moving over from strongside linebacker when Wilson, the team's captain, emotional leader and top tackler a year ago, was waived in the offseason because of an injured neck and high salary.

Williams, who played strongside linebacker last season, has made just three tackles in two exhibition games. The Broncos' front-line defense has allowed four touchdowns and two field goals in nine possessions against San Francisco and Dallas.

Although Williams is smack in the middle, the blame is spread all around. New defensive coordinator Jim Bates said the team isn't adjusting to his new scheme as fast as he'd hoped. Complicating things is a bevy of injuries to the line and to the field of candidates hoping to replace Williams at ``Sam'' linebacker.

Williams said the problem isn't up front. Things got more interesting there Monday when tackle Gerard Warren was traded to Oakland and Ebenezer Ekuban, the starter at right end who moved inside on passing downs, was lost for the season with a torn Achilles' tendon.

``The guys we've got, Big Sam (Adams), Jimmy (Kennedy), Amon (Gordon), they're doing a good job of holding guys up,'' Williams said. ``Now, it's time for me to just take it to the next level.''

Williams said he might not have everything down before the season starts.

``I think it will be continuous. I think I'll learn new things throughout the year,'' he said. ``I'll probably get a grip of a few things maybe week 6 or 7. I'll learn how to play something else a little different.''

Still, Williams knows he has to show some quick improvement or else he could find himself back at his old position with Nate Webster, who has plenty more experience playing middle linebacker, moving over to serve as the ``quarterback'' of the defense.

Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said he probably won't know until the regular season how much of a natural fit the middle is for Williams, who has played his entire career on the outside. He suggested it would be easy to move Williams back to his old spot if necessary.

``Hey, he's giving me a fair shot to try to have a job,'' Williams said. ``I'm thankful for it and I'm just going to go out and give it all I've got.''

Shanahan said Saturday night's exhibition against Cleveland will be more of a true barometer of his team because he's going to game plan for this one. The defense can therefore expect to play more than just the basic fronts and coverages they have against the 49ers and Cowboys.

Williams isn't alone in learning a new role. At least five positions will have new starters this season _ six if Williams stays in the middle.

``We all have a long way to go. New defensive coaches, new defensive players and just getting comfortable with the situation,'' said Kennedy, acquired from St. Louis in the offseason. ``The good thing is no one's hanging their head low. Everyone believes that this is going to be a great defense, a great team and we're fighting to get better.''
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