ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —** In the four weeks to this point, the Broncos defense has established itself as not only a unit to be respected, but to be feared. With a ball-hawking secondary, two dynamic edge rushers, a stout line and a savvy linebacking corps consistently making impact plays, you might have forgotten that the defense was missing one of its starters.
Derek Wolfe returned to practice on Wednesday as the Broncos began preparation for the Raiders.
Without defensive end Derek Wolfe due to a four-game suspension, the Broncos mitigated his absence by substituting Antonio Smith into that starting role while rotating in Vance Walker.
In the meantime, Wolfe maintained the physical shape he built up over the offseason and through training camp. He often worked out during Broncos games to mimic game tempo, he said. Other than training, he simply waited with bated breath and mouth watering.
Finally on Monday he returned to UCHealth Training Center and started getting back up to speed with tough workouts by Defensive Line Coach Bill Kollar.
However, if you ask some of his teammates, he's showing more than just getting back to normal.
"He's been excited. I think that he was here about 12 o'clock midnight as fast as he could to get on the field," outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. "You can just see the tenacity that he brings to the game. He's excited to play, especially being off for those four weeks. He's picked up a couple of more pass rushing moves, so I'm excited to see him out there on the field."
As the coaching staff begins working him back into the lineup, Wolfe may show that he's not the same player that he was in 2014.
"You all are going to see a new Derek Wolfe," Von Miller said. "I had already begun to see it [before Wolfe left for his suspension]. I know from my experience what it takes to change yourself and reinvent yourself. I started seeing Derek do the same type of stuff. He's got a whole bunch of moves and a whole bunch of stuff.
"He's [...] one of the best run-stopping players that we have on our team and really in the AFC West," Miller added. "It's a great, big-time player that we're getting back. We're fixing to have success on our defense when he gets back."
Wolfe adds to the roster's talent, of course, but he also adds to its aggression and identity.
"You think about that mauler, gritty type of player that's always around the ball, that's always trying to punch and strip the ball out and brings that extra edge to our defense," Ware said. "I think that's what Wolfe brings to our defense."