By Zack Kelberman
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4)– It turns out Derek Wolfe’s career-threatening neck issue carried implications well beyond the gridiron.
“It was scary,” Wolfe told reporters during the Denver Broncos’ mini camp last week. “I thought I was going to lose the use of my right arm. It was really scary. But we had to do all kinds of research and figure out what the best treatment would be to keep me playing. I talked to one doctor and he said that it was probably the best idea not to play.”
Wolfe, who’s no stranger to malady, appeared in 11 games for the Broncos in 2017 before a severe neck sprain prematurely ended his season. The injury resulted in numbness in his face, arms and legs, and consultations from multiple specialists. Having experienced nerve pain since 2013, surgery was recommended. Wolfe underwent experimental stem cell treatment and a Foraminotomy procedure, which he claims corrected his neck once and, hopefully, for all.
“It’s one of those things that needed to be fixed for a long time,” he said during Organized Team Activities in May. “I was really just putting Band-Aids on it for the last probably four years. Got the surgery, got it cleaned up. It’s all healed up, I feel strong again. I feel great.”
Now with the flexibility of an owl — his words — Wolfe is ready to re-assume his place as a key starter along the Broncos’ defensive line. Although once (understandably) fearful, he isn’t concerned with the possibility of getting hurt again. Inwardly and outwardly, there’s a high degree of appreciation for his clean bill of health, and optimism about what’s to come.
“That’s all you can really ask for in this league. It’s so hard to stay healthy,” he said. “So, when you are healthy it’s a blessing and you want to stay healthy. I’m excited to try to put a full season together at my full potential. Not have any setbacks. Last year, it was the ankle. Then as soon as they ankle got better, the neck started up, so it’s been one thing after another. Getting those two things fixed up, it should be good.”
There’s some thought that Wolfe’s full-time presence could make Denver’s D-line as devastatingly terrorizing as the 2015 championship-winning unit. The team finished top five in run defense last season and, needing more interior push, should receive a boost from breakout candidate DeMarcus Walker and free-agent addition Clinton McDonald.
“How good we can really be? When we shut down the run, we’ve got to get some sacks obviously,” said Wolfe. “But that stuff is going to come. If you shut down the run and you score some points on offense, the sacks will come. They’ve proven that in situations where they have to pass. It’s not just that quick, grab the ball and throw it. Make their quarterback have to hold it for a little bit. But we’ll get there.”