ENGLEWOOD – 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 one final 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 about the time they agreed to terms on a one-year deal with free agent linebacker Shaun Phillips, the former San Diego Chargers star and longtime Broncos tormentor who has collected 69½ sacks in nine seasons, including 9½ last year.
The questions facing the Broncos now are how much Phillips has left – he will turn 32 next month – and how fast Smith can 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 12½ sacks and was first in sacks per game (1.25). He had a three-sack game against national champion Alabama.
“That was a big game for me, playing against Alabama,” Smith said. “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 after 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 18½ 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.”
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.
Without a premiere pass rusher at No. 28, Elway considered trading out of the first round for a second consecutive season, but those plans changed when North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams slipped down the draft board.
Denver then filled two big needs that showed up in their playoff loss to Baltimore, selecting bruising running back Montee Ball out of Wisconsin in the second round and speedy cornerback Kayvon Webster of South Florida in the third.
Both Ball and Webster were Broncos fans long before they got the call Friday night. Ball said he patterned himself after Terrell Davis, and Webster counts Champ Bailey as his lifelong idol.
Webster said he hopes to get a locker next to Bailey’s so he can pick his brain. Asked if he had spoken with him yet, Webster said, “No, I haven’t. I’ve talked to Peyton, though. He texted me last night, told me it’s time to work. So, when Peyton texts ‘It’s time to work,’ it’s time to work.”
Ball also got a text from his new quarterback.
“He texted me, ‘Congratulations. We’re really proud of what you’ve done. All the players are really glad you’re coming in our program.’ He also said, ‘We really loved your work ethic, and we hope that continues when you get here,’” Ball said. “I didn’t know who was saying all this ... until I got to the end, and it said, ‘Peyton Manning.’ I was like, ‘Whoa!’ Oh my gosh!’”
In the sixth round, the Broncos added athletic offensive lineman Vinston Painter of Virginia Tech, and in the seventh they selected Miami (Ohio) quarterback Zac Dysert, who will serve as the third QB behind Manning and Brock Osweiler, last year’s draft pick at the position.
Dysert said he was “ecstatic at this opportunity” to learn under Manning: “I wouldn’t rather be in any other place,” he said.