ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Robert Ayers knows it's his time.
The starting right defensive end role is his. Both Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway and Head Coach John Fox have said as much.
"That was my mindset once I heard the news (of Elvis Dumervil's departure)," Ayers said Wednesday. "I knew it was an opportunity for me, and I'm looking forward to it. The fact that he says that doesn't make me relax or anything — it makes me hungry. Because I know there are a lot of expectations, and I have high expectations of myself. So I'm just looking forward to working hard and being ready to take advantage of it."
Entering his fifth NFL season -- a contract year -- Ayers believes he's ready for the chance.
For his first two years in the league, Ayers played outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense before moving back to his natural defensive end position with Fox's arrival in 2011. And while he showed flashes early in his career -- the longest fumble-return touchdown by a rookie in club history in 2009 and two sacks in the team's 2011 postseason win, to name a few -- he acknowledged that he isn't satisfied with his play. Yet.
"There's a lot that I feel like I should've done," he said. "Whether it be because of my maturity level or opportunity or whatever, point blank, period, I didn't do the things I wanted to do coming into this league. This year is an opportunity for me to try to get back on track to where I want to be. That's what I'm focusing on. This is a big year for me and a big year for this team and I'm looking forward to doing big things. That's all I'm really focusing on is this year, and the past four years are a lot of motivation."
On a conference call with season-ticket holders Tuesday, Elway reiterated that he has faith in Ayers' ability to step into the starting role after the lineman made "giant strides" in 2012. Ayers said he learned from what some would consider a demotion last season, when he played just 30 percent of the team's defensive snaps as a rotational player. The man he'll be tasked with replacing, Dumervil, was in on 922 plays -- 86 percent of the defensive snaps.
While Ayers is in position to take the majority of those snaps, the team will likely spread them out between the fifth-year lineman and newcomers Shaun Phillips and Quanterus Smith, among others. But Ayers wants to make it as difficult as possible to take him out of the game.
"I do believe I can be a guy that gets a lot of sacks," said Ayers, who currently has 6.5 quarterback takedowns in his career. "Sacks are about opportunity, it's about working, it's about being in the right place a lot of times and it's about having great talent. I feel like I'm going to work, I feel like I have talent, and I feel like this year, for the first year in my career, I'm going to have an opportunity to be put in a premier position to where I can rush the passer."
A key to his success in 2013 will be his improved maturity. Ayers admitted he was put in a situation as a first-round pick that he "wasn't mature enough to handle." When he didn't find immediate success as a rookie, he let it carry over to his play on the field. Now he's in a better state, mentally. And his teammates have noticed.
"I've had a chance to be around Rob for his career, and I've seen him grow as a player and as a person each and every year," team captain Wesley Woodyard said earlier this offseason.
"Rob, he's a great guy," Derek Wolfe added. "He's very mature in the way he handles things. I think he's doing a great job already in workouts — he's been pretty vocal and hasn't been slacking."
With the chance to replace a three-time Pro Bowler placed in front of him, Ayers said he's not going to take it for granted. He has even spoken with Dumervil about the opportunity, and the Baltimore Raven told Ayers to "do (his) thing. You're more than ready."
"I feel like I know what I can do, I've just got to do it," Ayers said. "And there's no amount of work that I'm not willing to put in to get there."