It's safe to say that the 2016 Denver Broncos suffered from a Super Bowl hangover. It's a malady that afflicts World Champion rosters on a regular basis in the NFL.
Despite the veteran leadership that remained on the roster, when Peyton Manning retired, the Broncos succumbed to the hangover and failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
This time around, defensive end Derek Wolfe plans on approaching the season differently. While he's always been a leader, Wolfe felt like he missed out on some teachable moments in 2016.
“I didn’t speak up enough," Wolfe said Tuesday following the Broncos practice session at the UC Health Training Facility. "When I saw things, I didn’t speak up and I didn’t say things when I should have. I’m not letting that (stuff) slide this year.”
Substitute 'stuff' with the expletive that starts with the letter 'S' and you'll know exactly what Wolfe said in that quote verbatim. There's no question the Broncos seemed to lack direction at times last year — especially down the stretch. Now, with DeMarcus Ware hanging up his cleats, Wolfe sees a leadership void he's ready to fill.
“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 and last season I didn’t do enough. I have to take more of a leadership role.”
It's hard to know exactly where Wolfe felt like he came up short in the leadership department last year. There were times when the team seemed on the verge of open conflict, like the shouting incident between Aqib Talib and Russell Okung, following Denver's bitter loss to the New England Patriots in Week 15.
Many of the tensions that arose last year were due to the offense's inability to contribute on the grid-iron. Leading the NFL in three-and-outs for most of the year, Trevor Siemian and company put too much of the burden of winning on the shoulders of Wolfe and company. They were simply on the field too much and for too long.
"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. "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 (stuff) done.”
Even the 2015 Broncos, who struggled offensively, found ways down the stretch to produce. Late in the year, when it was time to make the playoff push, Denver dug deep and found a way to run the ball with authority, which opened up the play-action in the passing game and kept the defense relatively fresh.
It's called complimentary football.
As good as Denver's defense was in 2016, they simply couldn't carry the Broncos to the playoffs. But that was then and as Wolfe alluded to, each new season can infuse new lifeblood into the roster.
New coaches, new system, new players. The Broncos are reloaded and rebooted. We'll find out in a few months if this team truly managed to learn from their failures last year.
Whatever happens, I'm excited to watch Wolfe grow into a larger leadership role. He's healthy and has put on the necessary weight to hold up better at the point of attack.
“I’m 20 pounds heavier than I was last year," Wolfe said. "My neck is healthy. Last offseason was so short. It was hard for me to recover and get back to my normal weight. I’m walking out at about 305-310 [pounds] right now. I’m moving as well as I’ve ever moved, so I feel great.”
Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.