CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Defensive end Derek Wolfe exited Saturday's practice with a right ankle injury, sending tremors into the final workout open to fans at Dove Valley.
Early word to Denver7 is that Wolfe suffered a sprain. He confirmed as much with tweets Saturday, saying, "Appreciate the love. Dodged a bullet."
Coach Vance Joseph remained cautiously optimistic.
"We are kind of assuming it's not that bad," said Joseph.
Wolfe underwent an MRI. He is expected to miss some time. Typically, a player with a sprain is placed on crutches to ease back into weight-bearing activity. The good news is that the calendar works in the Broncos' favor. They don't open the regular season until Sept. 11 against the Los Angeles Chargers.
A versatile inside force who plays with an edge, Wolfe tangled legs with starting right tackle Menelik Watson on a running play moments after team drills started. Wolfe left the field in a cart with his right leg straight as he leaned back. Upon leaving the cart, he limped into the locker room with the help of the training staff, placing no weight on his right leg.
— Troy Renck (@TroyRenck) August 12, 2017
There's no denying Wolfe's impact in the locker room. He has evolved into a team leader.
"Wolfe is a dude that is no-nonsense guy. He's always tough on people," veteran nose tackle Domata Peko said. "He's a really tough dude. And people follow him. He's a really aggressive guy and you need that stuff on the defensive line."
Wolfe is one of their best defensive players, if not their top interior player. He combined for 51 tackles last season with 5.5 sacks.
"We've got to be able to stop the run. That was our problem last year, and teams are going to check us. They're going to check to see if we stopped that and come out and try to run goal-line offense, and pound us until we stop it. We need Derek Wolfe," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "He's our best run defender. He's our leader up front, so we've got to have a guy like him to be able to anchor us."
After a season marred by a painful elbow injury, Wolfe added bulk in the offseason, beefing up 20 pounds, he said. Wolfe's injury comes less than 48 hours after defensive end Billy Winn suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Bears. Winn tore his ACL. He served as a key rotational player.
The Broncos added free agent rookie Nelson Adams for depth on Saturday. Winn's injury created a path for Shelby Harris to make the team. He played in 2014 and 2015 with the Oakland Raiders. If Wolfe is lost for significant time, the Broncos might have to find a veteran replacement. Vance Walker remains available. But that doesn't appear necessary at this point.
Rookie defensive end DeMarcus Walker shifted to outside linebacker earlier in camp following injuries to Shane Ray (wrist) and Shaquil Barrett (hip). There are no plans to move him back inside.
"The coaches are pleased with what I am doing. I thought I did some things well (against the Bears)," Walker told Denver7. "I just need to keep getting reps."
Jared Crick starts opposite of Wolfe at defensive end. Other rotational and depth players at defensive end include Zach Kerr, Adam Gostis, Harris and Shakir Soto. They are likely to see more reps over the remainder of the preseason.
"Injuries are 100 percent certainty in this league. You hate to see it. Hopefully, it's nothing serious," Kerr said. "But other guys have to step up. I know I have things I have to improve on."
Denver's defensive line depth began shrinking during OTAs. Kyle Peko broke his foot, and has not yet returned to practice.
"I am getting close," Peko told Denver7.
Inside linebacker Todd Davis (strained shoulder) returned to practice. ... Safety T.J. Ward watched practice. He's hoping to return this week from a right hamstring strain. ... Rookie receiver Carlos Henderson was not at practice because of a thumb injury. ... The Broncos drew a record average of 4,910 fans in 11 open practices this summer. The top crowd was 7,085 on Aug. 5. ... Joseph admitted he's not sure if Von Miller will play in the preseason.