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DeShawn Williams’ journey to the roster not easy, but ‘made me better’

For the first time in his NFL career, the defensive lineman wasn’t sweating cut-down day.

Los Angeles Rams v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

The last question to DeShawn Williams in his presser on Tuesday was how to pronounce his name.

A dumb question but a brilliant answer.

“Just listen to Bill Kollar. If I mess up, you’ll hear him say my name,” said the sixth-year defensive lineman making his first NFL roster to start a season. “He says my name louder than anybody.”

After joining the Broncos last season in Week 3 off the practice squad for his third stint in Denver, Williams is planning on Broncos Country not having to ask that question anymore.

“It’s DeShawn. D-e-S-h-a-w-n.”

A year ago at this time Williams was figuring out what to do after his Canadian Football League team shut down the season due to COVID-19 and he was working at Amazon.

The Broncos signed him August 15, 2020, only to cut him a few weeks later and stash him on the practice squad as they had done twice before - first in January 2018 when he signed a futures contract and later was waived in September and signed to the practice squad, and again in May 2019 after bouncing around the Dolphins’ and Colts’ practice squads only to be cut end of August 2019.

But the Broncos needed help by Week 3, and Williams was added to the active roster. Had defensive line coach not called him, Williams likely would have given up on his football dream.

“I was working at Amazon, and I didn’t know what I was going to do,” he said. “Thank God Bill gave me that call. I don’t know what I’d be doing if I didn’t get that call from Bill, so that’s why I say Bill is my safety blanket. He saved my career, so I appreciate him for everything.”

Having gotten used to being cut in August, Williams acknowledged that this year was the first time in his career he wasn’t checking his phone on cut day. And he had a good idea that would be the case this year after he was told he was done before the second half of the Rams game.

“It was weird [because] for the first year, I didn’t have to check my phone,” he said, adding he didn’t have to worry about a 702 or 303 number calling. “ I just went out the whole day—my wife and I—and we just looked at each other like we are not stressing. It was wonderful.”

There was good reason to put Williams on the team outright this year. Last season the defensive end had one interception, three passes defensed, two sacks, four tackles for loss, six quarterback hits and 37 tackles. In his preseason games, he added another interception and a fumble recovery to his stat line.

Vic Fangio told reporters that part of bringing Williams back last year was his work ethic in addition to production.

“You guys know all the good numbers that you can juice up your article with—how many days he was out of football and how many times he’s been cut and all that,” Fangio said. “He hadn’t played in a long time. He took advantage of the situation and he’s made it very hard for us to not keep him. It’s a great story. I know he appreciates each and every day that he’s here. He tells me that. We love having him on the team.”

Jonathon Cooper, a seventh-round linebacker who also made the 53-man roster, told reporters that Fangio specifically acknowledged Williams’ journey when he met with the guys in the huddle - and the group cheered.

“It’s been a long journey for him, and we’re all really proud of him,” Cooper said. “He’s a great player; he’s an even better teammate. We’re all extremely happy and excited for him. Obviously you guys have seen what he’s been doing in the preseason and he’s an amazing player. I just feel like everyone on the team is just happy that he’s here.”

That recognition from the coach and his teammates means a lot to Williams.

“It was great, man. It just shows that this team and our coaches pride themselves on players that work hard and don’t give up,” Williams said, noting other players like Shelby Harris and Mike Purcell who had uphill battles to make a squad plus stars like Courtland Sutton, Bradley Chubb and Von Miller who had to overcome injuries.

“We could have just hung it up or listen to the people that said we weren’t good enough and things like that, but we just kept working,” he added. “I think this team—that’s what our motive is going to be—just not giving up. We’ve got a bunch of resilient guys on this team.”

Working through that adversity is also something Williams wouldn’t trade.

“It’s been a long time, but I wouldn’t change it. The route, it made me better. It made me understand the game more and cherish the little things like putting the helmet on and going through that gate everyday knowing that I can come here and do what I’m here to do,” he said. “I can’t put it into words. This is not the end; this is just the beginning. I’ve got the season starting and now I know I have big things ahead for me and this team, so I’m just ready to get started.”