ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Showing his surgically repaired ACL was no longer an issue, the Broncos’ pass-rusher flashed through the line and sent the backup quarterback’s pass fluttering to the ground.
Von Miller admired this from the adjacent field.
On the next snap, the man John Elway brought to Denver to replace Elvis Dumervil batted the ball down, and DeMarcus Ware applauded along the sideline.
Quanterus Smith, a second-year pro from Western Kentucky who spent his rookie season on injured reserve, turned heads during the Broncos’ offseason workouts, flashing the speed and skills similar to what he showed on that three-sack day at Alabama that first put him on the NFL radar back in 2012.
The Broncos drafted Smith in the fifth round last year after losing Dumervil to Baltimore in the infamous fax fiasco that prevented them from getting his signed contract on time.
“He’s a guy who we thought highly enough to draft two years ago and now he’s healthy, completely healthy,” coach John Fox said. “I think it was a good decision to ‘IR’ him and I’ve seen great growth both in how he’s matured physically as well as gotten healthy.”
Smith, of Loganville, Ga., was leading the nation with 12 1/2 sacks when he tore a ligament in his left knee that sent his spirits plummeting just two months after his big game against Alabama had sent his draft stock soaring.
At last year’s training camp he displayed burst, brawn and, most significantly, an inside move that most rookies don’t develop until they get beat down enough by tackles thwarting their outside speed rushes.
As the summer wore on, however, it became clear that the knee wasn’t quite ready for the rigors of the NFL and he was placed on injured reserve when the Broncos made their final cuts.
“I kind of knew toward the end of the last preseason game that I really wasn’t ready,” Smith said. “So I took as, ‘It’s going to be a learning (experience). I can get bigger. I can let my knee heal all the way.'”
Determined not to let the 2013 season go down as a lost year for him, Smith buried his head in the playbook and attacked his rehab as he does quarterbacks.
“Just doing the training camp, getting the experience of the NFL, was a big help. So I kind of knew what I was coming into this year. So, yeah, I didn’t look at it as a disappointment or anything like that. I looked at it as something that can help me,” Smith said.
His knee “feels back how it was before the second-to-last game of college,” he said. “It feels good.”
“He’s clearly light years ahead of where he was last year,” defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. “He was trying to fight his way through the injury. He ended up getting that time, which he needed, and he’s much better in every facet. He’s healthy, he’s more mature, more sure of himself, and he’s doing a good job so far.”
Smith was fully healed by November, but couldn’t do anything to help the Broncos when their defense started losing so many starters that only three remained in the lineup on Super Bowl Sunday from their opening night back in September.
“Watching the Super Bowl was kind of hard. I didn’t like watching that,” Smith said. “But I knew we were going to have a better team next season. A lot of people were going to come back healthy. So I know that we’ve got another opportunity this year.”
All the chatter on defense this offseason has been about all the players the Broncos brought in – Ware, T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib – and all those starters returning from injury – Miller, Derek Wolfe, Kevin Vickerson and Rahim Moore.
Because his season ended before it even began, he knows fans may not even remember him.
“I came from a small school, went fifth round. So, it’s possible,” he said. “But it’s my job to make them remember me. So I have no problem earning my respect.”
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
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