AP Pro Football Writer
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) -- D.J. Williams is preparing for his first start since Jan. 14 with Wesley Woodyard still hobbled by a sprained left ankle.
The Broncos (9-3) take their seven-game winning streak to Oakland to face the reeling Raiders (3-9) Thursday night, and they'll be without Woodyard, who didn't make the trip.
"It will definitely affect the defense," star strongside linebacker Von Miller said. "He's been playing well for us, really all season. But D.J., he's ready to go."
Woodyard won the starting weakside linebacker job in training camp with incumbent Williams facing what turned out to be two suspensions totaling nine games, and he's had a breakout year. He leads the Broncos with 97 tackles and is the only NFL player with at least three interceptions and three sacks this season.
On Wednesday, Woodyard was walking around team headquarters without the noticeable limp he had after Sunday's game, but the Broncos are concerned about him aggravating the injury in a short week and they decided to keep him out of Thursday night's game with a key trip to Baltimore looming on Dec. 16.
Coach John Fox wouldn't tip his hand on his intentions for replacing Woodyard in the lineup but acknowledged it was nice to have Williams, the team's leading tackler in four of the last five seasons, as the proverbial "next man up."
"I feel good about all our linebacking crew: D.J., obviously getting him back, getting him more familiar as we move along in our new defensive system; Danny Trevathan's played in a lot of those roles. So, we feel confident in both of those guys," Fox said.
Williams returned to Dove Valley after serving a six-game suspension for violating the league's drug policy and was able to attend meetings while serving his subsequent three-game penalty for a drunken driving conviction. He was activated last month and has recorded a half-dozen tackles and one pass breakup in three games.
"I think when he came back, he didn't seem really rusty to me," Miller said. "He still was in really good shape. He looked pretty good. He had been paying attention in meetings; he was on top of everything."
Williams' last start was in Denver's loss at New England in the playoffs 11 months ago.
"I think D.J. will be ready to go, and he'll take advantage of the opportunity," Miller said.
Slot receiver Brandon Stokley, who missed last weekend's 31-23 win over the Buccaneers with an injured hip, was listed as questionable after being limited in practice again Wednesday. Stokley said his hip started bothering him a week ago but he wasn't sure how it happened.
The NFL expanded its Thursday night schedule this year, making a lack of physical recovery a bigger issue, especially with so many of them being divisional games, which are notoriously more scrappy.
"This is a combative game, no doubt. And it's a tough game, whether it's played any day of the week," Fox said.
Notes: Listed as probable are: RG Chris Kuper (ankle) WR Matt Willis (knee), G Manny Ramirez (back) and TE Virgil Green (hamstring), along with DE Robert Ayers, who missed last week while dealing with the death of his father. ... Peyton Manning's 3,502 yards passing are already the most in NFL history by a quarterback who didn't play the previous year, topping Stan Humphries' 3,356 yards with San Diego in 1992.
Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL
Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.