ENGLEWOOD, Colo.** – With the loss of defensive end Derek Wolfe for the first four games of the season due to suspension, Denver's front seven doesn't have the opportunity to slow down – the defensive line will have to step up in his absence.
"The train stops for nobody," as defensive end Malik Jackson put it.
In the eyes of the Broncos' linemen, Jackson's sentiment couldn't be truer.
In Wolfe's place, defensive end Antonio Smith has risen to the No. 1 spot on the Broncos' depth chart as they ready to host the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. Smith, a 12-year veteran, has seen over 130 starts in his career, but missed this offseason for personal reasons after joining the Broncos in April. Training camp and preseason experience was invaluable for him to get back in shape and quickly learn newly appointed Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips' defensive scheme.
"I definitely felt cobwebs," Smith said. "It definitely felt like I was knocking off the cobwebs after being away for so long. In that last game it just started to feel fun again. That's just how I play. I'm a naturally passionate person, love playing passionately so when I'm just playing technically it's really not my game. I've got to be having fun to play good."
But while Smith says this game isn't any different, there's no denying that there will be changes for him and Denver's defensive line. Smith will start in his first regular season game for the Broncos and share a rotation with Vance Walker.
"I approach getting ready for it the same way I have all these years," Smith said. "I think the one thing that will be different is the reps because we've all got to pick up, there's probably going to be less guys to work with so we've all got to kind of pick up the slack, play more reps, be out there in different situations where if we had everybody, it wouldn't normally be the case."
Walker is also confident that his team will be able to handle the new workload this coming Sunday.
"Coach [Bill] Kollar, he's always been really big into rotating, so I don't think much is going to change as far as that," Walker said. "We've just got five guys and we're going to roll, five or six guys, we're just going to keep rolling."
In addition to the loss of Wolfe, last week the NFL announced that safety T.J. Ward will also be forced to sit out of the season opener following a suspension. That's two starting defenders that will be sidelined for the first game.
"It's going to be tough," said Jackson, "but we have Tone [Antonio Smith], we have Vance Walker and we have [Darius] Kilgo, so I think that people just have to step up. The train stops for nobody. He had an unfortunate situation and so did T.J. The season's here now. It doesn't wait for anybody and we just have to keep going. I think that we'll be okay with the guys that we have. It's a big blow, but I think that we'll be okay."
The season opener is just a week away, and the Broncos got down to business with their first practice of the regular season to prepare for it.