KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Demorrio Williams had the idea two weeks ago: If the Chiefs were going to use him sometimes as a pass rusher, why not look the part, too? So the veteran inside linebacker approached Kansas City's coaches and asked them to watch as he lined up with his hand on the ground, similar to a down lineman, and went after the quarterback.
"They gave me an opportunity," he said. "Felt pretty good, you know?"
Looked pretty good, too. Coaches liked Williams enough as a sub-rusher that they used him in that role in Thursday's preseason finale against Green Bay, a 17-13 Chiefs victory. Williams had a sack in that contest, his third in two preseason games, and his performance has been enough to make coaches think they've found a surprising complement to outside linebacker Tamba Hali.
"What Demorrio has done is separate himself in that rush position," coach Todd Haley said. "That's what I've told the guys: Anybody that wants to jump up, raise their hand and get in that position."
It's an unusual look for Williams, who hadn't been a down pass rusher since 2003, his final season at Nebraska. And getting to the quarterback hasn't been the norm for him, either, considering he had 6 1/2 sacks in his six seasons and 96 games — and none since 2006.
Williams said he's been getting more opportunities in coordinator Romeo Crennel's scheme, which doesn't call for the normal responsibilities — and constraints — of players' positions.
"They're not saying, 'Hey, you're the pass rusher, you're the cover guy, you're this guy,' " said outside linebacker Andy Studebaker, who had two sacks in the third preseason game against Philadelphia. "They just want
everybody knowing what we're going to do, and it doesn't matter who's on the field."
As impressive as Williams has been, it would appear he has taken the lead in his battle with Derrick Johnson for who will start at weakside inside linebacker. Haley wouldn't say whether Williams is in line to start, particularly after calling the competition between Johnson and Williams one of the fiercest during training camp.
Johnson played well in the preseason, but Williams had the big plays and opportunities to improvise. Johnson said he just didn't get those chances, which he said has kept him from the memorable plays.
For his part, Johnson isn't ready to concede the race, saying he expects to be among the first-team defense in next Monday's regular-season opener against San Diego. When asked Friday about what he has to trim Williams' lead, Johnson recoiled, saying repeatedly that he believes he has done everything right. It's a sensitive subject for Johnson, who was benched in favor of Williams most of last season for failing to give maximum effort during preseason practices.
"I'm not behind. I'm right where I need to be," Johnson said. "I'm not behind. I promise you, I'm not behind. I'm not behind at all. Nobody has named a depth chart yet, but I'm not behind. Just know that: I'm not behind."
Still, it would be difficult to sit Williams while he's riding such a hot streak. Haley said he has reminded the defense that Kansas City needs more players willing to perform in multiple roles, to add new dimensions to a unit that was among the league's worst in 2009. He said that players have been told often that, the more they can do, the better their chances are of having a prime role. Haley said Williams has taken to that opportunity.
"He's into it," the coach said. "However we create sub-rushers, whether they're defensive linemen or linebackers, we need more. We've got one real good one in (Hali), and we've got a bunch of guys with a bunch more potential. Demorrio, he looks like he likes that. He's got to keep coming."
Williams said he has no intention of slowing. He said he became known as a run-stopper in four seasons with Atlanta and these last two in Kansas City. But he relishes the idea of becoming a more frequent pass rusher, and considering his preseason performance, it seems a fit (-) and one that would seem a likely choice on opening night.
"Monday night," Williams said, "I guess they will have made their decision."
Chiefs fill out practice squad — A day after trimming its roster to the NFL-mandated limit of 53 active players, Kansas City assigned eight players to the practice squad.
Defensive linemen Garrett Brown, Dion Gales and Bobby Greenwood, offensive lineman Darryl Harris, quarterback Tyler Palko, defensive back Ricky Price, wide receiver Verran Tucker and linebacker Pierre Walters were added to the Chiefs' squad Sunday.
The Chiefs also reportedly claimed nose tackle Anthony Toribio, who was waived by the Packers. Kansas City would then have to cut another player to make room for Toribio.