ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --The Broncos will lose defensive end Derek Wolfe to a four-game suspension for a violation of the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs, the league announced Friday.
Wolfe can remain with the team throughout training camp and the preseason, but will begin serving his suspension on Sept. 5 at 2 p.m. MDT, when the roster must be trimmed to 53 players. He cannot return to the team until Monday, Oct. 5, one day after the Broncos' Week 4 game against the Minnesota Vikings.
In a statement, Wolfe offered his "most sincere apology" to the Broncos organization, teammates and fans. He noted that the suspension was caused by medication that he took.
"During the offseason I took a medication which is on the banned substance list," he said in the statement. "The medication is not a substance which would enhance my on-field performance in any way and I genuinely was unaware that it was prohibited, but players are responsible for what is in their bodies.
"I will certainly exercise far greater caution in the future and will seek advice relating to the permissibility of any and all medications."
Without Wolfe, a greater burden will fall upon a group of defensive ends led by veterans Malik Jackson and Vance Walker.
Jackson played more snaps than Wolfe last year, and both worked together often as 4-3 defensive ends who rotated inside in pass-rush situations. Jackson was the more active of the two in the pass rush, with 13 quarterback hits and 29 hurries per ProFootballFocus.com's film study compared with four and 23, respectively, for Wolfe. Jackson was also the fourth-ranked defensive end among the 59 4-3 ends measured by PFF; Wolfe was 30th.
Walker, a free-agent signee in March, spent last year in Kansas City as a part of the Chiefs' defensive line rotation. He was signed because to provide depth at all three spots on the defensive line, including nose tackle behind Sylvester Williams.
Last year, Walker's best work came in the games where he played the most snaps, so his tendency to play better with more extensive use should come in handy during Wolfe's suspension.
Wolfe's suspension could create more opportunities for younger defensive ends fighting for spots on the roster, including second-year veteran Kenny Anunike, who converted from 4-3 defensive end this offseason. Anunike is the Broncos' lightest defensive end, but is perhaps their quickest player up front and could help in the pass rush.
But the biggest challenge for the defensive line without Wolfe could come against the run. The Broncos' new 3-4 alignment will face some challenges in an opening four-game stretch that includes three elite running backs: Baltimore's Justin Forsett, Kansas City's Jamaal Charles and Minnesota's Adrian Peterson.
With formidable runners like those on the docket, some of the task of replacing Wolfe against the run will fall on the Broncos' linebackers and safeties. The inside linebackers will have to engage with more interior offensive linemen than they did last year in the 4-3 alignment, so the Broncos will need outside linebackers Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Shane Ray and safety T.J. Ward to be active and aggressive against the run.
Replacing Wolfe's production -- especially against the run -- will take a collective effort, but with Jackson up front and Pro Bowlers at linebacker and safety, the Broncos should be up to it.