ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When Jamal Williams was trying to latch on and build a career with the San Diego Chargers in 1998, he was a victim of rookie hazing like all first-year players.
"They shaved off my eyebrows, so I had no facial expressions," Williams recalled this week. "So after awhile, guys were like, 'We don't know if he's happy, sad or what.'"
Reading his emotions this week is a similar challenge.
Williams, 34, played a dozen seasons with the Chargers, but he will make his first appearance at Qualcomm Stadium as a visiting player when the Denver Broncos (3-6) head to San Diego (4-5) on Monday night. San Diego released Williams on March 4, and just five days later, its AFC West rival signed the nose tackle to a three-year contract.
A three-time All Pro during his time with the Chargers, Williams downplayed the experience of facing his former team.
"We play football," he said. "That's what we do. It's not like I'm going to go out there crying tears and stuff. That's not part of me. When it's time for football, it's time for football; family, friends, after that. When you put emotions into things, you can't focus on football and playing the best you can out there."
Williams took a similar even-keeled approach after his successful run with the Chargers suddenly ended after he spent most of 2009 on injured reserve with a triceps tear.
The time off actually had given the rest of Williams' body time to heal. He wasn't ready to retire, and when his old defensive line coach in San Diego, Wayne Nunnely, started recruiting him to Denver, it didn't matter much that he'd have to face his old team twice a season. The thought process was matter of fact.
"My main thing was, 'OK, I'm going to the Denver Broncos, one of their divisional opponents. How well will I be accepted in the locker room and how would I fit in the scheme?' That was my only concern at the time, not, 'Oh, I'm leaving San Diego.'" Williams said.
"It's part of the business. I've been there, seen that with Junior Seau, Rodney Harrison, Drew Brees, so I knew my time would come eventually. If not, I was going to retire there."
Once Williams got through initial struggles with the Mile High altitude, the other parts fell into place. Denver's 3-4 defense needed a centerpiece, and Williams quickly assimilated himself both in the locker room and on the field. He has just 22 tackles, 15 solo, this season, but statistics have never told the story with Williams.
For him, it's about commanding double teams, consuming blockers to allow linebackers to make the stop or forcing plays to bounce outside, hopefully to the waiting arms of teammates.
"He knows how to play the game," Nunnely said. "He knows the tempo of a game. He's seen every type of block and every type of person -- big center, small center, quick center, all those different kinds of pitchers. So he knows how to adjust his game based on who he's playing against."
"It'll be kind of weird," Rivers said of lining up against Williams without the protection of a non-contact practice jersey. "Six training camps he was right there, a yard away from me, a captain here, a great teammate and a great player for a long time. ... Knowing Jamal and how competitive he is, it'll be a battle for sure."
The Chargers' pass-heavy offense is ranked No. 1 in the NFL and could reduce Williams' opportunities Monday, since he's not regularly part of Denver's pass-rush packages.
Williams, predictably, is more focused on a positive outcome, though he might occasionally cast glances at a San Diego fan base he mentioned as one of the chief highlights in a career that has spanned 156 games and included 459 total tackles, 13 sacks and 22 pass breakups.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press