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Derek Wolfe plans to speak up more in 2017

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Derek Wolfe was far from the primary cause of the defensive line's struggles last year, particularly against the run. But he still shoulders responsibility for a disappointing season in which the Broncos finished 28th in rushing defense.

When Wolfe looks back on 2016, he thinks more about what he could have done on the sideline and in the locker room than on the field.

"I didn't speak up enough," Wolfe said. "When I saw things, I didn't speak up and I didn't say things when I should have. I'm not letting that [stuff] slide this year.

"I can sit here and make all the excuses I want, but at the end of the day, we just didn't get it done."

To Wolfe, that was the difference between a world championship and missing the playoffs for the first time in his NFL career. The free-agent departure of Malik Jackson and injuries that hit the defensive line -- including Wolfe himself, who missed time because of elbow and neck injuries -- do not qualify as excuses.

"Look at the Super Bowl season. We got put in a lot of bad situations; we just made it happen. So there's no excuse for that," he said. "It's bad football. Guys are banged up, whatever -- it doesn't matter. You've just got to get it done, and that's what we're going to do this year."

To that end, Wolfe took advantage of the longest offseason of his career. He returned to full health and bulked up.

"I'm 20 pounds heavier than I was last year," he said. "My neck's healthy. Last offseason was so short, it was hard to recover and get back to my normal weight. I'm walking around at about 305-310 [pounds] right now and moving as well as I've ever moved, so I feel great."

But just as important as growing in size is growing in terms of his presence within the team. Only four players have more seniority on the team than Wolfe: WR Demaryius Thomas, OLB Von Miller, TE Virgil Green and CB Chris Harris Jr.

Players with that much experience are expected not just to perform, but point the way, providing guidance that comes not just from football experience, but life itself.

"I never thought I'd be married. I did that [this offseason]," he said. "My life has come full circle. I never thought I'd be a stepdad; I'm a stepdad. I never thought a lot of things would happen, and they have. I didn't think I'd ever be the kind of guy who said, 'When it's time for me to be a free agent, I'm taking all the money.' But that's not me.

"I had to think, 'Who am I?' I've learned how to be myself. When I see guys not doing the right thing, I'm going to tell them. I'm not going to sit back and just let that [stuff] slide, because me, it's either confrontation -- a fistfight or say nothing. I'm learning how to not fight people, if that makes sense."

Except on the field, where one expects Wolfe's intensity to be as strong as ever in his sixth pro season. Any improvement in the Broncos' performance against the run requires Wolfe remaining a stalwart presence up front.

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