There are two directions in which the Broncos could go to replace starting DE Jason Hunter, who is out a minimum of two months after tearing a triceps muscle.
The simple choice would be to reinstate Robert Ayers to the first team. Hunter supplanted Ayers during the first week of training camp, in part because the journeyman Hunter played with more intensity and energy than the 2009 first-round draft pick.
But if the Broncos stick to their depth chart as it is listed, then they'd be making rookie Derek Wolfe an immediate starter. Wolfe, the Broncos' top 2012 draft pick, is listed behind Hunter at left defensive end; Ayers is shown behind Pro Bowler Elvis Dumervil on the right side.
Wolfe already is working about half of the first-team snaps as a defensive tackle on pass rush downs. This is a move triggered by Von Miller's shift from strongside linebacker to defensive end when the Broncos go into nickel and dime packages -- and it's also a role that was handled last year by Ayers.
Ayers had a sack with the second team in the Broncos' preseason opener last Thursday at Chicago. But Wolfe had two, and when defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio broke down Hunter, Wolfe and Ayers earlier in training camp, he described Hunter and Wolfe in glowing terms that for each included "rugged" -- a description he did not apply to Ayers.
There's no question that the Broncos would like Wolfe to start in the future. The issue at hand is whether that future has now arrived.