ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Barrel-chested, hale and hearty, Derek Wolfe looks stronger than at any point in his NFL career.
"I feel better than I've ever felt," he said.
There's no physical evidence of the struggles he endured last season. The year began with a harrowing spinal-cord injury in the preseason at Seattle Aug. 17 and took a frightening turn when he suffered a seizure on Nov. 29.
In hindsight, Wolfe knows what went wrong in 2013. He now knows what could have prevented the issues that followed in the months after he was wheeled away from CenturyLink Field on a stretcher.
"Basically I didn't take the right steps to let it heal properly," Wolfe said.
Ten days after the neck injury, Wolfe was back at practice, getting ready for the regular season opener, saying that he had "zero pain, zero weakness." At that moment, it seemed his problems were behind him. In reality, they were just beginning.
"When it wasn't feeling right I didn't tell anybody. I just kind of played through it and I really should have brought that to their attention," Wolfe said.
"It came back to bite me, that's basically what happened. It was kind of my fault. I really pay attention to it like I should have."
The team flourished as Wolfe stayed in the lineup. He played a majority of the snaps in the Broncos' first 10 regular season games. He kept quiet.
"I just kept pushing it aside because we were playing great," he said, "so I didn't want to miss out on anything."
But Wolfe was not as consistently effective as he had been as a rookie. His weight was down, and he struggled in the inside part of his dual strong-side end/interior tackle role -- a crucial issue, given that he acknowledges that he is "more comfortable" inside than outside.
Wolfe wasn't the same, and he knew it.
"Absolutely, as far as my physicality and stuff," Wolfe said. "I couldn't really use my face. I didn't feel like myself out there."
Such on-field issues became insignificant after he suffered a seizure as the Broncos began their Week 13 trip to Kansas City and was immediately hospitalized.
By the time he returned to practice on Christmas, he was down to 258 pounds -- more like a weakside defensive end or strong-side linebacker than the inside/outside lineman he was in his rookie season.
"I hadn't been that light since I was a sophomore in high school," Wolfe recalled. "Obviously, I didn't feel right at all. I started getting a little bit light-headed and stuff I had to leave and just shut it down."
That was Wolfe's last practice until organized team activities began May 28. In the interim, he regrouped. He returned to the weight room and added 32 pounds; at 290 pounds, says he is at his heaviest weight as a pro. He's learned how to slow down and pace himself.
"It's not pushing myself to the limit every day. It's just kind of taking things in stride to try to save up that energy for game day," he said. "Use everything you've got to train and get ready for it -- but do the right things.
"I don't have to push myself every workout of every day. I don't have to go train three times a day. Do that one workout, and put everything you've got into that one workout, and then rest. That's the biggest thing I've learned -- is rest."
And the fact that Wolfe could use his 2013 as a lesson is the biggest victory he could have achieved.
"You come back out here and you feel better than you've ever felt," he said. "It's kind of an emotional feeling. It's a great feeling. It's a happy emotion; it's not anything crazy. It's all football, so it's fun."