ENGLEWOOD — Go ahead, Miami, pick on him.
He wants to be bullied, tormented and harassed by the Dolphins.
“I hope they do that,” Denver Broncos rookie cornerback Darrent Williams said as his eyes lit up. “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever been picked on.”
During his Oklahoma State days, quarterbacks would see where Williams was lining up and throw the opposite direction. They wanted nothing to do with him and his coverage skills.
“I don’t like being on the field and the quarterback not looking my way,” Williams said. “I want them to challenge me.”
Oh, he’ll be challenged all right Sunday, when Denver meets up with Miami. The Dolphins are scheming at this very moment on ways to pick on Williams when the Broncos are
in nickel coverage, which is their five-defensive backs package. Quarterback Gus Frerotte will lick his chops when he sees the rookie on the field.
But this isn’t your ordinary rookie. Williams has grown in a hurry. Then again, he’s been forced to mature at a frenzied pace. With Pro Bowl regular Champ Bailey on the shelf with a hamstring injury throughout training camp, the Broncos had to promote Williams.
Bailey’s injury was actually a blessing in disguise because Williams now feels NFL ready. Playing with the first-team defense all preseason will do that.
“I had to be on my game every play,” he said. “I had to give 100 percent every time. This is a four-quarter dogfight. Everybody has to try to do a little extra.”
Williams has earned safety John Lynch’s respect.
“From day one, he’s impressed me,” Lynch said. “He was thrown into the fire, and he’s responded. Most guys can’t handle that, and he handled it well. I’ve been incredibly impressed.”
When Denver selected Williams with the 56th overall pick, it was under the assumption that he’d shore up the kick-return game first and possibly play cornerback down the road. No one thought he’d be the Broncos’ nickel back this early in his career — except for him, of course.
“I knew what type of corner I was,” said Williams, who had 11 career interceptions for the Cowboys. “I always felt I was a better corner than kick returner.”
That’s saying something, because Williams is a kick-return artist. And the Broncos are in dire need of a spark. Last year, Denver was 12th in the league in punt returns (9.3 yards per return) and 18th in kickoff returns (21.2).
During his final year with the Cowboys, Williams averaged 27.7 yards on punt returns. That’s even more impressive when you consider this: Detroit’s Eddie Drummond led the league with a 13.2-yard average.
Williams hopes the Broncos will win the coin flip Sunday because he wants to receive the opening kick. He’s been fantasizing about that moment for a while.
“You’ll see me back there jumping up and down and going crazy,” he said. “I’m going to be so amped up. I’m going to try to make something happen.”
That’s why Denver drafted him: Williams has the ability to make things happen.
“This kid is a natural,” Denver defensive coordinator Larry Coyer said. “Is he all-NFL? No. But is he competitive, fast and tough? Yes, sir.
“I’m anxious to watch him play in a game.”
Miami will be a formidable challenge. The Dolphins have receivers like Chris Chambers, Marty Booker and David Boston.
“They have three guys who’ve been No. 1 receivers at some point in their careers,” Bailey said. “They obviously have talent. We can’t overlook that.”
Bailey and fellow cornerback Lenny Walls will have their work cut out for them.
When the Dolphins spot Williams out there, they’ll certainly try to pick on him. And that’s just fine with Williams.
“I always expect the ball to come in my direction,” he said with a sly grin. “I’m ready to get picked on a little bit.”