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What Smith, Phillips Bring to Broncos

Posted Apr 27, 2013

Andrew Mason evaluates what pass-rushers Quanterus Smith and Shaun Phillips will bring to the Broncos.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In about 45 minutes Saturday, the Elvis Dumervil "fax pas" finally, mercifully, wound to its resolution.
 
In the short term, the Broncos hope his production will be replaced by ex-Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips. Phillips agreed to terms with the Broncos on Saturday, and the prolific pass rusher -- 69 sacks in nine seasons, including 24 in the last three years -- will line up as a pass-rushing defensive end, supplementing Robert Ayers and working opposite Von Miller.
 
What Phillips does is provide experience, another edge threat that opposing blocking schemes must take seriously, and time. Time is what the Broncos' first fifth-round pick, defensive end Quanterus Smith, needs in order to polish the rough edges of his game and fully recover from the torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered last November.
 
Smith said Saturday that he won't be ready to practice until training camp. If he isn't ready for the regular season, the Broncos could give him another year to let the knee heal, which could move 2011 seventh-round pick Jeremy Beal into the role of backup edge rusher.
 
Whenever Smith is ready, he'll bring some tantalizing potential -- best demonstrated last season, when Smith had three sacks against Alabama, featuring an offensive line that included the No. 10 and 11 overall picks (Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker). Smith had five sacks against Florida International and was leading the FBS with 12.5 sacks before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament.
 
Had he not torn the ACL, Smith likely would have been a second-day pick, even with his 250-pound frame. Teams in a 3-4 alignment would have looked at him as an every-down outside linebacker; but even 4-3 specialists have high draft value, as seen with Seattle's Bruce Irvin, a first-rounder last year.
 
Where Smith can improve is in his overall repertoire of pass-rush moves. His first step is so quick that it allowed him to usually blow past his blocker to get into the backfield, which meant he didn't need to rely upon other moves.
 
Going forward, he'll need more than speed off the edge, and he'll have to incorporate his first step and his move into a seamless process. He can also add at least five to 10 pounds; the 250-pound Smith said he'd played at 260 and would like to get back there.
 
Weight and moves can be added over time. But Smith's first step and acceleration are all his own, and impossible to coach. Those are the raw materials of a productive edge rusher; if he can add the rest, Denver has a long-term steal.
 
With Phillips arriving, anything the Broncos get from Smith this year will be a bonus. The judgment on Smith's success in the NFL will take much longer, but if he avoids another ACL injury, his outlook is promising. If they jointly provide a short- and long-term replacement for Dumervil's departure, the fax will be a footnote.