This is the team that waited patiently for tight end Julius Thomas to get healthy. Their patience paid off last year as Thomas became a star. They showed patience again when dealing with safety Quinton Carter. He’s finally healthy, and Carter looks like the player he used to be when he was an impact starter for the team as a rookie in 2011.
Their patience looks like it will once again be rewarded.
Smith has been a standout player in practice this year during training camp. He missed his rookie season due to a knee injury suffered in 2012 during his final season at Western Kentucky. At the time of the injury, Smith was leading the NCAA with 12.5 sacks.
Denver felt good about the pick, and Smith tried to prove himself last year in training camp. Watching practice, you could tell that Smith was still bothered by his knee injury.
His burst wasn’t there, and it seemed like he was thinking about his knee when making a cut. Smith was not crisp, fast or effective a year ago in training camp.
Now, it looks as though he’s back to full strength. Smith has been getting some first-team reps at training camp, and the Broncos are trying to give him as much experience as possible now that he’s healthy.
Here’s a look back at Smith’s career and a look forward to what he could be for the Broncos.
During his time at Western Kentucky, Smith was known as a player who could dominate a game. Smith gets his sacks in bunches, and he went through six out of 10 games without registering a sack.
However, Smith had three multiple-sack games, including a five-sack game against Florida International and the game most people know about—his three-sack performance against No. 1-ranked Alabama.
Smith went toe-to-toe in that game against Crimson Tide right tackle D.J. Fluker. One of Smith’s three sacks came against Fluker—the future first-round pick of the San Diego Chargers in 2013. It was a brilliant feather in the cap of the small-school player.
Even though he has elite quickness, burst and speed, Smith does not play out of control. Smith is a natural pass-rusher with outstanding speed off the edge. He plays with good balance and has the footwork to change direction smoothly when pursuing the quarterback.
Smith can play multiple positions, lining up as a left or right defensive end. This versatility allows Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio to move Smith around and bring pressure from various areas.
With long arms and strong hands, Smith can reach out to snare a ball-carrier or quarterback with ease. He is more of a chase tackler than he is an edge-setter when defensing the run.
Training Camp Practice Notes
Smith does a good job in one-on-one drills. He’s regularly beating guys like Winston Justice in “the pit” and does it with ease.
He’s using multiple moves to get after the quarterback in practice. Smith also does a nice job of changing up his moves to disguise what’s coming next.
Smith is showing good quickness around the edge. He’s also shown great closing burst to get to the ball.
He’s quickly shedding guys at the point of attack, and Smith has a nose for where the play is headed. On one play during practice, he was able to get around left tackle Ryan Clady. That in and of itself is an amazing feat for the raw, unproven pass-rusher.
All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady complimented Smith after practice on Thursday. “He’s a good player, for sure. Fast. Really good hands. He’s definitely a good player, and he’ll definitely make the team.”
John Fox had good things to say about Smith’s performance so far. “We had other guys we developed, [DE] Quanterus Smith is a guy that most fans don’t know much about but the guy was on IR last year, he has had a good camp thus far.”
Malik Jackson feels confident about Smith’s ability. “[Quanterus] is doing real well, too. Last year he didn’t play, but right now, he’s coming along nicely.”
Quanterus Smith with a big day today, getting tips from DeMarcus Ware on how to use his hands "I lost my technique last yr" Smith told me.— Cecil Lammey (@cecillammey) July 31, 2014
Earlier this offseason, Smith gave a positive report on his knee. “Yeah, yeah. It feels back how it was before the second-to-last game of college. It feels good.”
He’s really thriving on this defense, and Smith has two great teachers in DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller. He appreciates the time they take to show him the ropes.
“Yeah, this is a great opportunity to learn from those guys, guys that you watched growing up, especially DeMarcus Ware. It’s a great opportunity to just watch those guys as they play their career.”
Smith was refreshingly positive when talking about missing his rookie season.
“I wasn’t disappointed. I kind of knew towards the end of the last preseason that I really wasn’t ready. 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.’ 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 is a sleeper prospect for the Broncos, but he doesn’t know if people have forgotten about him or not.
“It’s possible. I came from a small school, went fifth round and stuff like that. So, it’s possible, but it’s my job to make them remember me and stuff like that, so I have no problem earning my respect.”
Smith is back, and he looks better than ever. He’s getting tips from Ware every day, and that is certainly helping to improve his game. It’s difficult not to get excited about his incredible upside, but what are the realistic expectations for Smith this year?
Getting around five to seven sacks sounds about right for the second-year player. There’s a possibility that he could be effective enough as a part-time pass-rusher to push that sack total near double digits.
Smith compiled his sacks in bunches as a collegian, and that may be the way he produces as a pro.
Smith has worked hard to return from his injury. He’s healthy now and tells me his knee has felt good since the midway point of last season.
He certainly has intriguing upside for the Broncos this season. Smith wants to play around 255-260 pounds this year to help him hold up against the run. He’s got a fantastic work ethic, and Smith could be in for a larger role than some people think.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. College football stats provided by CFBStats.com.
Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey
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