Even when Derek Wolfe was not of sound mind or body, his competitive instincts never betrayed him.

It was the final Saturday night of November, and while the Broncos were gathered for a team meeting at a Kansas City-area hotel conference room in preparation for the next day's game against the rival Chiefs, their starting defensive end was coming out of a 26-hour, medically induced coma.

Hospital doctors made a mistake. They should have kept Wolfe comatose for at least 27 hours.

"I remember waking up and trying to rip the breathing tube out," Wolfe said.

The first voice Wolfe heard was that of his brother, Josh Pastore, who had flown in from New Jersey. Wolfe had been trying for months to get his brother out to Colorado for a visit.

The first words Wolfe spoke: "About time."

Then he saw Corey Oshikoya, the Broncos' assistant trainer who had stayed with Wolfe from the moment Terrance Knighton yelled "Stop the bus!" from the back seat of the team bus to the airport a day earlier.

From his hospital bed in Denver, Wolfe asked "Osh" if he would be able to play against the Chiefs the next day in Kansas City.

Oshikoya reminded Wolfe that he was in an intensive care unit.

Last week, as he sat in the office of Broncos strength and conditioning coach Luke Richesson, Wolfe still was struggling to precisely describe how he had fallen so ill last season.

A 23-year-old elite athlete who was the first player the Broncos selected in the 2012 draft should not have stressed his nervous system to the point he was sleeping only two hours a night, losing weight no matter how much he ate, and getting loaded into the back of an ambulance with a heartbeat of 20 and blood-sugar level at 40. (The blood-sugar level should have been between 100 and 140, considering he had just eaten a meal.)

The Broncos drafted Wolfe with the No. 36 pick overall early in the second round as much for his fierce style as the fact that he was a rare 295-pound defensive tackle who had the agility to rush the quarterback.

But after getting six sacks and leading NFL rookie defensive linemen in playing time percentage, Wolfe's second pro season began with two bouts of food poisoning and a preseason neck injury that was diagnosed as a contusion of the spinal cord. His weight dropped to 265 pounds, and he had only one sack through the Broncos' first seven games.

Through it all, the maniacal Wolfe was training three times per day.