ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Since coming into the NFL as a high second round pick in 2012, Denver Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe has never shied away from being himself. He is authentic to the core. What you see is what you get.
At 6’5” and what he now says is around 305-310 pounds, Wolfe is an intimidating physical specimen. However, his frame isn’t the scariest thing about the 27-year-old. His steely eyed stare is enough to send shivers down the spines of any offensive lineman dumb enough to line up across from him.
Wolfe provides the intimidation factor on the Broncos’ defense. He’s the bruiser. He’s the aggressor. He’s the brutish force that drives Denver’s defensive line. Without him, they would lack attitude. They would lack grit.
“Just watching film on him over the years, he’s a beast out there,” new teammate Domata Peko said of his fellow defensive lineman. “I love the way he plays. He has that ‘no B.S. mentality and that’s the kind of guy I want to play next to on the d-line.
So, it shouldn’t have been such a surprise when Wolfe showed up to his first press conference of OTAs on Tuesday and dropped four curse words on the assembled media while sporting a sweat drenched hoodie and a “man-bun.” Quintessential Derek Wolfe.
Over the years, Wolfe has dealt with a serious neck injury, a suspension for violating the NFL’s performance enhancing drug policy, and some of the most physical and intense moments of football in the history of the Denver Broncos. Those experiences, along with his time spent around great players, has turned Wolfe into one of the most vocal leaders on Denver’s roster.
“I’ve been around enough great players that I’ve seen how not to do it and how to do it,” Wolfe said. “Over the years, just maturing. Every season for me is just a learning session. Every season is like a life. It’s like a life span. You learn something new every season.”
Last season, Wolfe feels like he didn’t live up to his role as a leader within the locker room. This year, he intends to change that.
“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 s**t slide this year.”
Those failures may have contributed to creating the biggest hole in Denver’s defense last season.
Coming off their stellar 2016 playoff run and Super Bowl 50 championship, the Denver defense failed to live up to their own sky-high expectations last year, particularly when it came to their ability to defend the run.
The Broncos defense ranked No. 28 in rushing defense last year, giving up an average of 130.3-yards per game on the ground. That has to change if the Broncos are going to contend again this season. Derek Wolfe knows it.
“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,” Wolfe said of their issues defending the run last year. “It doesn’t matter what happens—look at the Super Bowl season. We got put in a lot of bad situations, we just made it happen. There’s no excuse for that. It’s just poor focus, bad football, guys were banged up, whatever. It doesn’t matter. You just have to get it done. And that’s what we’re going to do this year, get that s**t done.”
Of course, Wolfe’s life has gone far better than it could have. At one time, the former Cincinnati Bearcat was headed down a dangerous path. He dealt with multiple off-field issues while at Cincinnati and has had more than his share of skirmishes since coming to the NFL.
Now, though, things finally seem to be settled down for him.
Wolfe got married to his long-time girlfriend this past winter. He has a dog and a pool and a stepson. However, he hasn’t lost the nasty attitude that has made him an asset for the Broncos throughout his NFL career.
“I never thought I’d be married, but I am,” Wolfe joked. “I did that. My life has come full circle. I never thought I’d be a step-dad, but I’m a step-dad. I never thought a lot of things would happen, and they have. I didn’t think I’d be the kind of guy that when it comes to free agency, say, ‘I’m taking all the money.’ But, that’s not me. I had to think about who am I? That’s what 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 let that s**t slide. Me, it’s either confrontation, fist-fight, or say nothing. I’m learning how to not fight people.”
This season, Wolfe will be expected to continue to grow his game, evolve as a leader in the locker room, and continue playing with attitude and effort on the field. He’s already grown so much in his six NFL seasons. There’s no reason for him to stop now.
“I love to win,” Wolfe said. “I love the relationship—football has always been my family.”