Broncos Address Pass-Rusher In Draft, Free Agency
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — The Denver Broncos entered the weekend with check marks up and down John Elway’s to-do list: pocket crasher, bruising back, speedy cornerback.
Yet, still no replacement for Elvis Dumervil.
Elway addressed that last major need Saturday by drafting one pass rusher and signing another in free agency.
The Broncos selected defensive end Quanterus Smith of Western Kentucky in the fifth round after agreeing to terms on a one-year deal with free agent linebacker Shaun Phillips, the former Chargers star and longtime Broncos tormentor who has collected 69 1/2 sacks in nine seasons, all in San Diego, including 9 1/2 last year.
“I think it’s going to be fun,” said Phillips, who was thrilled when the Broncos bypassed the highly touted defensive ends in the first round and went with defensive tackle Sylvester Williams instead. “I mean, that’s how life is. Sometimes you may grow up rooting for one team, and you find a reason to start rooting for another team.”
The questions facing the Broncos now are how quickly Phillips, who turns 32 soon, can adjust to his new team and how fast can Smith get on the field to start offsetting the departure of Dumervil.
“I’ll be ready to go by training camp,” said Smith, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in November and missed the last two games. “I’m going through the rehab right now. I feel real good on it, confident on it, so I’m excited and I’ll be ready for training camp.”
At the time he went down, Smith was tied with Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore for the national lead with 12 1/2 sacks and was first in sacks per game (1.25).
“He went to Western Kentucky but one of his best games was against two really good tackles at Alabama,” Elway said. “So, he’s got the unique ability to duck and a great feel to rush the passer.”
Smith said his three-sack game against national champion Alabama “was a big game for me. … I think it helped my draft stock out a lot due to the fact I couldn’t perform in the postseason, the combine and the All-Star game. So, it helped me in a big way.”
The Broncos’ other fifth-round pick, wide receiver Tavarres King from the University of Georgia, also had a monster game against the Crimson Tide, piling up 142 yards when he faced them last season.
King had 136 receptions for 2,602 yards and 21 touchdowns in his college career. He enters a crowded corps of receivers led by starters Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.
“I can do it all,” said the speedy, 6-foot, 189-pounder who lacks not for confidence. “I can do anything they need me to do. Wherever I can fit in and help the team is where I’ll be. Anything that I can do to help is what I’ll do.”
Smith was the 2012 Sun Belt Player of the Year after finishing his college career with two dozen sacks.
The Broncos acquired the pick they used on Smith — 146th overall — from Green Bay when they traded out of the fourth round for the Packers’ fifth- and sixth-round selections.
The Broncos came into the weekend still needing a pass-rusher following the free agency departure of Dumervil to the Baltimore Ravens, a move that followed a deadline-fueled fax fiasco last month. On Friday night, Elway noted finding a gem in the later rounds wasn’t the same as 2011, when he grabbed Von Miller with the second overall pick.
Phillips will switch from outside linebacker in the 3-4 alignment to defensive end in Denver’s 4-3 scheme, but he insisted he’s played enough snaps with a hand on the ground that it won’t be an issue.
“I’m a natural defensive end that they moved to outside linebacker,” he said. “So, it’s like going back home for me.”
While the Broncos are replacing Dumervil with a rotation of Robert Ayers, Smith and Phillips, it almost certainly will be Miller who actually takes over his old position on third downs at weakside defensive end, sliding over from the strong side linebacker spot to torment left tackles.
The 2011 Defensive Rookie of the Year set a franchise record with 18 1/2 sacks last season, which culminated with All-Pro honors and his second trip to the Pro Bowl.
Phillips played the strong side on passing downs for years with Shawne Merriman in San Diego.
“We haven’t gone into details of how I will be used or how I will not be used,” Phillips said. “If they want me to hand the ball off to Peyton (Manning), I’ll do that.”
The signing of Phillips and the drafting of Smith all but closes the door on free agent defensive end Dwight Freeney coming to Denver.
“We never stop looking, but I would say we’re pretty happy with where we are,” Elway said.
The Broncos had defensive ends John Abraham and Freeney in for visits after losing Dumervil, but Phillips gives them a 250-pounder with more flexibility to cover the tight end or rush the passer, coach John Fox said.
“He’s Quanterus Smith as a veteran, as a rusher, you know, 6-3, 6-4, 250-pound guy who’s got skins on the wall. I mean, he’s done it in this league. And then also he can stand over a tight end, cover them and fit on run support. So, that’s valuable,” Fox said.
Phillips is renowned for his trash talk. His most famous interaction with the Broncos took place in 2009, when then-Denver coach Josh McDaniels exchanged pregame taunts with Phillips, whose sack and strip that day of Chris Simms on his first dropback set the tone for a 32-6 win by San Diego.
“It was more fun than anything,” Phillips said Saturday.
The Broncos added tackle Vinston Painter of Virginia Tech in the sixth round and Miami (Ohio) quarterback Zac Dysert in the seventh. He’ll serve as the third QB behind Manning and Brock Osweiler.
“You never get everything you want,” Elway said, “but when you talk about fulfilling the needs we had, we were able to do that and get the guys we wanted. Now, we turn them over to the coaches and see what they can do.”
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