ENGLEWOOD – Out with the new and in with the old.
Linebacker Keith Brooking participated in his first padded practice with the Denver Broncos on Saturday, subbing for rookie Danny Trevathan (ankle) at weakside linebacker behind Wesley Woodyard.
Earlier in the week, the 36-year-old Brooking lined up at middle linebacker in place of second-year sub Mike Mohamed for noncontact work during 7-on-7 drills behind starter Joe Mays.
Center J.D. Walton tried to pick a fight with Brooking during Saturday’s morning workout.
“He told me he thought it was someone else,” Brooking said. “He was like, ‘Man, I would not have picked a fight with you; I thought it was someone else.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, whatever. Man, I’ve already forgotten about it, whatever.’
“You should have seen me way back in the day. It was like four or five a day. I’ve calmed down a lot. I’m much smarter.”
It’s that veteran savvy that the Broncos wanted when they signed the 15th-year veteran and five-time Pro Bowler to a one-year, $1 -million deal with Denver last week.
The Broncos will be without five-time leading tackler D.J. Williams for the first six weeks of the regular season while he serves a drug suspension. Williams also faces a DUI trial Wednesday that could result in an even longer absence.
Williams wasn’t at practice Saturday, but coach John Fox said it was an excused absence.
The Broncos (No. 10 in the AP Pro32) have been holding him out of team drills anyway while giving snaps at his position to Woodyard, Trevathan and, now, Brooking.
Williams made the trip to Chicago for the season opener but didn’t dress out, while Brooking stayed back in Denver to work with the Broncos’ strength and conditioning staff and acclimate to altitude.
Brooking said he felt just like you’d expect after lacing up the pads for the first time in seven months and going at it in Denver’s thin air.
“It didn’t feel great, but it felt good,” Brooking said.
He said it’ll take a few days to get back in the groove.
“I know how to take on a block and shed a block and get to the football, but it takes a few days until you get your pad level right,” Brooking said. “I know how to do it; they know I know how to do it. It just takes a few days to kind of get it back after you’ve been away for seven months.”
Brett Favre used to talk about how every summer it took a few days to get used to even having his heavy helmet on again.
“Oh yeah, that’ll be (Sunday),” Brooking said. “You get that kind of camp headache where it’s just kind of constant, the Advil, the Tylenol don’t work.”
Brooking, who played the last three seasons in Dallas after a stellar 11-year run in Atlanta, said he’s eager to play for demanding defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and longtime linebackers coach Richard Smith.
“Defensive coordinators that played linebacker tend to have linebacker-friendly defenses. I consider this defense that. So he’s definitely going to be a lot of fun to play for,” Brooking said of Del Rio. “And Richard Smith worked me out back in ’98 when I was coming out for the draft so he’s been in this league for a very long time and has a lot of knowledge as well.”
While he works his way back into shape, Brooking is being asked to impart his own vast football knowledge to his younger teammates while pushing them for snaps on Sundays.
“I have a lot of experience. I have a ton of plays in this league. I’ve seen it all – obviously experience and knowledge, and I love competition,” Brooking said.
“The big elephant in the room is that we’re all competing against one another, but at the same time we’re here to build a special bond and unite and be together and be a great team. Because all the really great teams I’ve been on have those intangibles.”
Brooking said he looked to veterans Jessie Tuggle and Cornelius Bennett when he first reached the NFL, and now things have come full circle.
“When I was a rookie, man, they were great for me, and always there for me. So for the young guys I’m here for them, and they can pick my brain all they want,” Brooking said.
Woodyard sure is.
“He brings that experience. He’s been to a couple of Pro Bowls here and there, played in the Super Bowl,” Woodyard said. “So, you know, he’s a guy that can tell us things, and it’s going to be up to us to pick up on what he’s going to give us.”
Second-year pro Nate Irving is one player who could learn a lot from his new veteran teammate. He missed out on the offseason a year ago because of the league’s lockout, and his play at middle linebacker wasn’t memorable.
“Last year, it was just like scrambled eggs,” Irving said. “I was just trying to run around and trying to get everything right – hopefully. But this year I know more about what I’m doing, and I’m able to do it.”
Irving has been moved to the strong side to back up Von Miller, and he led the Broncos with five tackles in their exhibition opener.
“Well, I think just the young guys, they’re so overwhelmed,” said Brooking, who wants to do now for the greenhorns exactly what graybeards Tuggle and Bennett did for him.
“They were always there for me. I picked their brain, and they were more than happy to help me out and answer any questions that I had,” Brooking said. “But just seeing the examples that they showed every day – how to practice, how to meet, how to take notes, how to watch film – just being a pro, that’s what this league’s about. You have longevity by doing the little things and not leaving a stone unturned.”