With Derek Wolfe‘s season ending Sunday with an elbow dislocation, the onus is now on the rest of the defensive line to make up for his absence.
That test begins Sunday in Houston, against a Texans offense ranked in the top 10 in most major statistical categories.
“Wolfe was a huge part of our D-line, but (defensive line coach) Bill Kollar said it last week: ‘This game waits for no one,’” Shelby Harris said. “We know we have to come prepared. Everyone has to step up and pick up the extra slack.”
That means there’s more pressure on Harris to now become the line’s linchpin, while journeyman Mike Purcell will continue to play nose tackle and third-year pro DeMarcus Walker will move into a starting spot at defensive end opposite Harris. Fourth-year pro Adam Gotsis and rookie Dre’Mont Jones will also see playing time on the line.
Purcell, who has come on strong since his first start in Week 5, expressed confidence in Walker’s readiness. That’s despite Walker having made just one career start and not having played since Week 8 in Indianapolis partially due to a shoulder injury. He’s been a healthy scratch the past three weeks.
“DeMarcus has found previously his groove with Vic (Fangio) in this defense, and he had four sacks before he got hurt,” Purcell said. “It’s not like he hasn’t performed this year. We’ll just have to all step it up around him.”
Jones made an impact in last week’s win over the Chargers, recording his first career interception on a Philip Rivers screen pass. That play impressed Fangio.
“To me, the big thing was that he was aware that the screen could happen,” Fangio said. “Then when it happened, he did a great job catching it. But the awareness part is what made it possible. To me, that’s an indication of a guy improving over the season.”
The former Ohio State star has five tackles and one sack.
“Being a rookie, going in and out, it’s been hard to get a rhythm this season,” Jones said. “But those sorts of plays (like the interception) will help me find it, and it was great to get the love from my teammates and get a big momentum-shifting play to help the team.”
Speaking of momentum, Gotsis is looking to gain some over the final four games of a contract season. The defensive end will be a free agent after the season and was a healthy scratch for four consecutive games from Week 5 through Week 8 as Fangio turned to Purcell.
“Hopefully I’ll get some opportunity out there, and not play 10 snaps a game,” Gotsis said. “I’m trying to be out there and make a career for myself too, so it’s a big game and a big rest of the year for me, really. There’s a lot of opportunity in front of me, and it’s up to me what I do with it. .. I have to make some plays to finish this year off right, for the team and for myself.”
Meanwhile, as Wolfe tweeted out on Tuesday that “it breaks my heart to think that (the Chargers game) could be my last game as a Bronco,” Denver was already busy preparing for life without their veteran star and leading sack-getter this year.
“Everyone in our room has played, and we feel like there shouldn’t be any drop-off,” Gotsis said. “It’s a good opportunity for the rest of us to really step up on the defensive line. Houston is a (heck) of an offense, so there’s a lot on us to come in, stop the run and get after (DeShaun Watson).”
Footnote. Denver officially placed Wolfe on injured reserve Tuesday. In a corresponding move, the Broncos acquired center Patrick Morris off waivers from Pittsburgh. Morris was an undrafted rookie in 2018 for the Steelers when current Broncos assistant Mike Munchak was the team’s offensive line coach.
Here’s a look at the Broncos’ six defensive lineman remaining after Derek Wolfe’s injury.
Player Snaps Comment
DeMarcus Walker — 169/844 snaps (20%) … 3 1/2 run “stuffs” and five “disruptions” (four sacks, one pressure)
Dre’Mont Jones — 222/844 (26%) … 1 run “stuff” and four “disruptions” (one sack, one hit, two pressures)
Shelby Harris — 454/844 (54%) … 9 1/2 run “stuffs” and 11 “disruptions” (four sacks, two hits, five pressures)
Adam Gotsis — 243/844 (29%) … 3 1/2 run “stuffs” and three “disruptions” (one hit, two pressures)
Mike Purcell — 243/844 (29%) … 13 1/2 run “stuffs” and one “disruption” (one hit).
Jonathan Harris — 0/844 (0%) … Signed off waivers from Chicago on Oct. 23, hasn’t been active.