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NFL Team Report - Denver Broncos - INSIDE SLANT
Replacing Elvis Dumervil takes more than just one player.
Even if the Broncos had more actively pursued Dwight Freeney or John Abraham, neither of them alone would have filled in for Elvis Dumervil. While they would have played on pass-rush downs, the base-package work would have still belonged to Robert Ayers.
Now, Shaun Phillips will handle that pass-rushing role after agreeing to terms April 27. But he is just the beginning of a collective that the Broncos hope will eventually include their pass-rushing defensive tackles and fifth-round pick Quanterus Smith, a 250-pound defensive end from Western Kentucky who was leading Division I in sacks before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament.
In the short term, most of the burden will fall upon Phillips. What set him apart from Freeney and Abraham, with whom the Broncos met in March, was Phillips' ability to work as a strong-side linebacker, which also allows him to back up Von Miller in addition to rotating onto the defensive line.
"He's the kind of guy that we were looking at," said Broncos executive vice president John Elway. "We were looking for a backup 'sam' (linebacker) to play behind Von and were also looking for a guy that can also rush the passer. Shaun Phillips can do both of those."
But the length of Phillips' deal -- one year -- is crucial. By the time that contract expires, Smith should have put the torn ACL behind him. He is expected back on the field for training camp, but with Phillips and Ayers around, the Broncos don't have to rely upon him; assuming those two defensive ends stay healthy, they can let Smith work back to 100 percent at his own pace.
By 2014, however, the Broncos hope Smith is ready to contribute at a more substantial level. Denver put heavy stock in Smith's performance last year against Alabama, when he sprinted past Crimson Tide tackle D.J. Fluker for three sacks. With Fluker headed to San Diego as the Chargers' first-round pick, that duel should be repeated regularly over the next few years.
"He's got the unique ability to duck and a great feel to rush the passer," Elway said.
He was also the primary target of the Broncos' last day of the draft. Denver looked at him in the fourth round, but traded down 21 slots to add a sixth-round pick when the Packers called, looking to trade up to select UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin. Denver gambled Smith would be there -- and watched as five defensive ends other than Smith went off the board.
"We were talking about Quanterus at the end of the fourth (round) so to be able to slide back and get him in the fifth, he was (other than the top players) the guy who was highest rated as far as the pass rushers," Elway said. "We were happy to get him."
But when Smith plays, he'll have help from the inside. The first-round selection of Sylvester Williams made 2013 the second consecutive year in which Denver led off its draft with an interior pass rusher, following end/tackle Derek Wolfe, who was a second-rounder last year. Wolfe had six sacks working as a left defensive end in the base package and as a tackle when the Broncos used nickel and dime formations; Williams, who had six sacks and 25 pressures at North Carolina next year, will line up alongside him.
Denver's pass rush will look different without Dumervil. But if it's just as effective, no one will fret over the tardy fax that helped hasten his release.
NFL Team Report - Denver Broncos - NOTES, QUOTES
--Montee Ball made his reputation as a consistent, durable runner who could handle often excessive use at Wisconsin -- which included six 30-carry games in his last 17 games. But it will be his growth as a blocker that determines how much he plays as a rookie.
Blocking issues helped keep 2012 third-round pick Ronnie Hillman from playing more often last year; he missed part of training camp to injuries and never grew in blitz pickup as the Broncos hoped. A missed blitz pickup also helped doom Knowshon Moreno; he allowed a sack in Week 1 last year, then after a fumble in Week 2, was deactivated for eight consecutive weeks.
If you can't help protect Peyton Manning, you're not going to fit in the offense. Ball will have to learn -- which makes him no different than most running backs.
"All young guys do (have to work on blocking)," Elway said. "They don't come in perfect. He has a lot of work to do, just like a lot of guys on our team do. We will coach him up."
--Jacob Tamme is a tight end, but no player on the Broncos' current roster might see his role more affected by the arrival of wide receiver Wes Welker than he will.
Much of Tamme's work came when he was aligned in a stand-up position in the slot, a role that he shared last year with Brandon Stokley. As a result, the two-tight end formation became the Broncos' base package. With Welker around, Denver will use more three-wide receiver formations, and with Joel Dreessen a better fit as a traditional tight end because of his blocking skills, Tamme might find his workload reduced.
But Tamme insists that he hasn't given the matter much thought.
"I haven't really talked to anybody about any of that. People ask about that type of thing, and my answer is, 'I don't know,'" Tamme said. "I never really worried much about all that. Wes is awesome, it's been great to have him here, it's been great to get to know him the last few days. He's going to be a great addition to our team."
Tamme played less than half of the snaps last year, but was a frequent target, as Manning looked his way once every six plays Tamme was on the field. Even if that work rate drops this year, he won't pout.
"I'm going to do whatever they ask me to do," Tamme said.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think it was a close call. You're talking about two great backs. The bottom line was that we looked at the medical." - John Elway, on why he picked Montee Ball over Eddie Lacy, who fell to the Packers.
NFL Team Report - Denver Broncos - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
A closer look at the Broncos' picks:
Round 1/28 -- Sylvester Wiliams, DT, 6-3, 313, North Carolina
The Broncos were surprised that Williams fell to them, but when he did, they declined trade offers and pounced. He continues John Elway's trend of leading off with a pass rusher; he opened the 2011 draft with Von Miller, who lines up at defensive end half the time, and picked defensive tackle/end Derek Wolfe with his first pick last year. Williams, who had six sacks and 25 pressures last year, will likely back up Terrance Knighton and Kevin Vickerson right away, but could be worked into the Broncos' sub packages to boost the interior pass rush and take pressure off Miller.
Round 2/58 -- Montee Ball, RB, 5-10, 217, Wisconsin
Four days after declaring Willis McGahee the "big back" and Ronnie Hillman the "change of pace back," Elway and Fox drafted Ball, and immediately dubbed him the "three-down back." The all-time leader in touchdowns among Division I backs, Ball proved remarkably durable in spite of a massive workload. His arrival puts last year's team-leading rushers, McGahee and Knowshon Moreno, on notice. Although the Broncos don't have to cut one of them immediately, one won't be on the roster when the 2013 season begins, and whoever remains might be as insurance in case Ball falters.
Round 3/90 -- Kayvon Webster, CB, 5-10, 197, South Florida
With Champ Bailey turning 35 and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on a one-year deal, the Broncos needed to cultivate a younger option. They hope they found it in Webster, a fast cornerback who ran a 4.41-second 40-yard dash at the Combine. Webster is raw and unlikely to be anything more than a fourth or fifth cornerback this year, but could have a more prominent role in 2014.
Round 5/146 -- Quanterus Smith, DE, 6-5, 250, Western Kentucky
After trading out of the fourth round for fifth- and sixth-round picks, the Broncos still managed to get Smith, who they targeted as a potential pass-rush replacement for Elvis Dumervil, whose 250-pound weight is the same as Smith's. Smith led Division I with 12.5 sacks before tearing an anterior cruciate ligament in November; that injury will keep him out until the start of training camp and might hold back his development. Three of Smith's sacks last year came against Alabama, when he was lined up against No. 11 overall pick D.J. Fluker.
Round 5/161 -- Tavarres King, WR, 6-0, 189, Georgia
The Broncos have little depth at wide receiver behind the starting troika of Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker, so they had to emerge from the draft with at least one receiver. In King, the Broncos add a vertical threat who got enough separation to average 22.6 yards per reception, but who also needs work to refine his route-running and pass-catching skills in traffic. King will have the chance to be the primary backup at the outside spots to Decker and Thomas.
Round 6/173 -- Vinston Painter, OT, 6-6, 309, Virginia Tech
Painter only started one season for the Hokies, but the Broncos were enamored with his strong Combine workout, in which he finished among the top five offensive linemen in the bench press, vertical jump and 40-yard dash. Painter is a converted defensive lineman who will likely back up at right tackle. He could also get a look as a reserve guard.
Round 7/234 -- Zac Dysert, QB, 6-3, 228, Miami (Ohio)
One year after drafting their anointed quarterback of the future in Brock Osweiler, the Broncos might have found his potential backup in Dysert. Questions about accuracy -- particularly a high interception ratio -- and hand size helped knock Dysert down to the last round, even though he broke most of Ben Roethlisberger's records at Miami. A torn hamstring injury kept Dysert from working out fully in recent months, but he said he's "100 percent" and will be ready for rookie camp, which begins May 10.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: T Ryan Clady (tendered at $9.828 million).
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (6)
--DT Justin Bannan is not expected to return after the Broncos signed Terrance Knighton from Jacksonville to play alongside Kevin Vickerson. Bannan started throughout the season in his return to Denver after spending 2011 with the Rams.
--LB Keith Brooking appears unlikely to return. The 37-year-old middle linebacker stepped into the starting lineup in place of Joe Mays in Week 6 and stayed there the rest of the season, but the Broncos want to take a look at younger options.
--C Dan Koppen is not expected to return if he finds a suitor willing to give him a starting job. Koppen filled in for the injured J.D. Walton at center for the last 12 regular-season games of 2012 and proved he could handle first-team duties, but Broncos coach John Fox declared Walton would "definitely" be the first-teamer when training camp began.
--WR Brandon Stokley is unlikely to return after the Broncos signed ex-Patriots slot receiver Wes Welker. Stokley, a resident of nearby Castle Rock, Colo. admitted to The Denver Post that adding Welker was a "great move," even if it meant the end of his Broncos tenure -- and his career with it.
--DT Ty Warren is expected to retire after missing the last 15 games of 2012 with a torn triceps muscle. A hip and two triceps injuries have limited him to just one regular-season games since 2010.
--WR Matt Willis could return, but the Broncos could look elsewhere for receiving depth as his career has failed to take flight as hoped. Willis, who turns 29 in April, has just 29 catches since joining the Broncos as a practice-squad member in 2008, but has survived three coaching changes in that span.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--FB Chris Gronkowski (not tendered as RFA) is not expected to return. The Broncos have little use for a fullback in their offense, which could leave him on the training-camp bubble if the Broncos re-sign him.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
--RB Lance Ball: RFA tendered at $1.323M with no compensation); $1.323M/1 yr.
--S David Bruton: Potential UFA; $4.5M/3 yrs, $1.2M guaranteed.
--CB Tony Carter: ERFA; terms unknown.
--OT Chris Clark: RFA tendered at $1.323M with no compensation; $1.323M/1 yr.
--P Britton Colquitt: RFA tendered at $1.323M with no compensation; $1.323M/1 yr.
--DT Mitch Unrein: ERFA; $555,000/1 yr.
--DT Kevin Vickerson: UFA; $5M/2 yrs, $1M guaranteed.
--LB Stewart Bradley: FA Cardinals; $1.2M/1 yr, $300,000 guaranteed.
--DT Terrance Knighton: UFA Jaguars; $4.5M/2 yrs, $500,000 guaranteed.
--LB Shaun Phillips: UFA Chargers; $1M/1 yr.
--CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: UFA Eagles; $5M/1 yr, $5M guaranteed.
--G Louis Vasquez: UFA Chargers; $23.5M/4 yrs, $5M SB/$13M guaranteed.
--WR Wes Welker: UFA Patriots; $12M/2 yrs, $12M guaranteed/$6M fully guaranteed.
--DE Elvis Dumervil (released).
--QB Caleb Hanie (released).
--DE Jason Hunter: UFA Raiders; terms unknown.
--S Jim Leonhard: UFA Saints; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--CB Tracy Porter: UFA Raiders; $2.5M/1 yr.
--LB D.J. Williams (released).