ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --In a room full of grizzled NFL veterans, it's not often that a second-year player can just walk in and claim a leadership role.
But that's exactly what Derek Wolfe has done.
"We needed guys to step up in that role -- he has accepted it," 12-time Pro Bowler Champ Bailey said. "I like it. He works hard, he's here every day. He thinks he is going to be the best at his position and I love that confidence about him."
Wolfe's work ethic, which Bailey called "very impressive," is how the second-year defensive lineman believes he has been able to earn the trust of his teammates so early in his career.
"If you can look past the experience levels — I think that anybody that plays this game respects hard work," Wolfe said. "I just try to lead by example and do the right things and usually people will follow."
Sylvester Williams, the club's first-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, acknowledged he is already following Wolfe's lead. He said he knew before he even got to Denver that he wanted to "stick behind him" and take his cues from Wolfe's non-stop motor.
Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio saw that leadership developing as early as the middle of Wolfe's rookie campaign.
Now, rookies and veterans alike are realizing what the Broncos have in the 6-foot-5, 285-pound lineman.
Four-time team captain Wesley Woodyard called Wolfe "a freak of nature," and defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson said he's seen the second-year player "coming into his own" and doing more than just talking the talk -- "he's showing it, too."
But his biggest fan on defense might be the Broncos' single-season sack leader, Von Miller.
Miller estimated that he "probably took three or four sacks away" from Wolfe last season, when the rookie would've had the sack had he not gotten there a split-second earlier. So he considers Wolfe's six-sack season more like a double-digit campaign.
Wolfe's thoughts on the matter? "As long as we're getting them to the ground, that's all that really matters."
"Derek Wolfe had an amazing rookie year," Miller said. "I think everybody knew he was destined to be (a leader) right when we first brought him in. He's just a worker. His sophomore year, I think he's going to have an amazing year. You can just tell by the way he's working on the field. It's hard to go against him. I'm all for him."
Having just turned a Defensive Rookie of the Year campaign into an even better sophomore season when he was the runner up for the league's Defensive Player of the Year, Miller was asked about how Wolfe will handle the transition.
In his answer, the two-time Pro Bowler compared Wolfe to the player who won Defensive Player of the Year.
"I talked to him about (Texans DL) J.J. Watt and the jump that he had from year one to year two," Miller said. "I think he can do the same type of stuff. I think you just keep working hard; I think he'll have the same type of effect for our defense."
Del Rio might not have mentioned Watt, but he said he's been pleased with Wolfe's response to a season in which he became just the second defensive lineman in Broncos history to start every game during his rookie campaign.
Wolfe's six sacks ranked third on the team, and he led all NFL rookie defensive linemen in play-time percentage. And he's far from satisfied.
"I thought last year was a really special year for him," Del Rio said. "And the refreshing part is that he came back hungry for much more. Not a little bit more, but much more. He really has his eyes set and his heart set on being a great player in this league. He knows he has to work to do that."
"There is no shortcut to building your skill level and I think Derek is really a man on a mission," he continued. "I like that about him. A lot of young guys come off a big year and they would have a tendency to get into that, 'I have it figured out' type of thing. And he is not approaching it like that at all. That's a really good thing for all of us."
As far as Wolfe is concerned, he's got just one goal.
"I just want to put my rookie year behind me and I just — I want to win," Wolfe said. "That's all I want to do. I don't really care what my stats look like.
"As long as we win and I have a ring on my finger at the end of the year, that's all that really matters."