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Publish Date: 4/9/2005

Changes may await Williams
Broncos linebacker could wind up with new number, position

ENGLEWOOD — Negotiations have yet to begin, but they will soon.

Denver Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams has what newly acquired linebacker Ian Gold wants: jersey No. 52.

Given the going rate for giving up a number, Williams figures to cash in big. Just look at what New York Giants punter Jeff Feagles received for giving up his number to rookie quarterback Eli Manning (a Florida vacation) last year, and then to receiver Plaxico Burress (a new kitchen) this season.

Heck, negotiating terms for a number swap can bring bad blood between teammates. Washington’s Ifeanyi Ohalete was promised $40,000 if he’d give up No. 26 to running back Clinton Portis, who gave him half and then broke the agreement. The two litigants will go to court in six months to work out the squabble. Meanwhile, Ohalete was sent packing to Arizona.

Williams doesn’t expect anything like that. They’ll get a deal ironed out.

“I see Ian looking at my locker and the number,” Williams said Friday at Dove Valley, where he’s on hand for the offseason conditioning program. “I’m just waiting for him to ask. It’s no big thing for me.”

What will be Williams’ asking price to part with No. 52? A Rolex? Cash? A Porsche?

“No,” Williams said. “What I want is No. 55.”

But that’s the number of backup linebacker Patrick Chukwurah, right?

“Maybe we can work out a three-way trade,” Williams said. “Ian and I will work something out.”

They have another issue to settle as well: Both want to play weak-side linebacker. Neither wants to switch over to strong-side linebacker, which would require coverage of the tight end.

“I prefer weak-side,” Williams said. “I enjoy playing there.”

So does Gold. He played strong-side linebacker with Tampa Bay last season and loathed it.

“The strong side isn’t for me,” Gold said.

Neither knows what coach Mike Shanahan and defensive coordinator Larry Coyer have in store for them.

“To be honest, I have no idea what position I will be in come opening day of the season,” Gold said. “I know D.J. doesn’t have a clue, either.”

Whatever the coaches decide will be fine with each. If both are on the field, that’s all that matters.

“It’s about not being selfish,” Williams said. “Whoever plays whatever position, it’s about making the team better. Sam (the team’s name for a strong-side linebacker) and Will (weak) aren’t too much different.

“The only reason I wouldn’t want to play (strong) is it would probably be like a starting-over process.”

Then again, Williams is a quick study. Last season, the first-round pick out of Miami (Fla.) became just the second Denver rookie to lead the team in tackles (114). He also finished third in the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year voting behind only former college teammate and current New York Jet linebacker Jonathan Vilma and Houston cornerback Dunta Robinson.

Some would even argue that Williams had a Pro Bowl season, but he has to pay his dues — and establish his name — before that honor will come.

“Hopefully I’ll get there one day,” said Williams, whose best game of the year was a 13-tackle afternoon against San Diego on Dec. 5. “There’s a process to get there, unless you have a ridiculously amazing year. As a rookie, you don’t get there. There’s a possibility (this year), but I have to step my game up and play a lot better than last year.”

That’s asking a lot. After all, Williams had only one game (New Orleans) in which he failed to get at least four tackles. He also had an interception against Tennessee and a pair of sacks, against Jacksonville and Kansas City.

And Williams got stronger as the year progressed. He never hit the proverbial rookie wall.

“I felt pretty good all year,” said Williams, who trained this offseason in Coral Gables, Fla., with Vilma. “I talked to a few of the other guys from other teams, and they felt a little banged up. I felt fresh.

“Part of that was because of the situation we were in at the end (fighting for a playoff spot). The last few games we played were important, and you couldn’t be tired.”

The presence of a potentially improved defensive line should do wonders for Williams and his fellow linebackers. If the revamped defensive line can apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season, it will make the linemen’s jobs much easier.

“The better guys we have on (defense), the more problems we give offenses,” Williams said. “Someone will get free.”

Williams is hoping it’s him getting free. Whether that will be from the strong or weak spot remains to be seen.

“I have no idea how it’s going to work out,” Williams said. “We haven’t really talked about it much. I think we both can do it.”

As for what number Williams will wear, that’s up in the air as well.

Terms of a deal, although imminent, have yet to be brokered.

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