ENGLEWOOD, Colo. –- Plans are one thing, turning those plans into action is another. The Denver Broncos certainly believe their pass rush should have one of the better one-two combinations in the league with DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller.
That's the plan anyway with two guys who have been named to the Pro Bowl a combined nine times.
Ware is looking to bounce back from an injury-marred 2013 season when he missed the only three games of his career and the team expects Miller to fully recover from December ACL surgery. And after watching Ware and Miller go through the team's offseason work, including the just-completed organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp, there is no reason to believe those plans won't move quite nicely from the drawing board to what happens this season.
But the Broncos also got a look at the wild card in what can be done in their defense. They got a look at a guy who is also squarely in their plans -- a guy, with Miller still on the mend, who got plenty of premium snaps when the defense went to work over the past few weeks.
And Quanterus Smith could well be one of those options the Broncos didn't have last season who turns out to make a difference this time around.
"This is a great opportunity to learn from those guys, guys that you watched growing up, especially DeMarcus Ware," Smith said. "It's a great opportunity to just watch those guys as they play their career."
The Broncos used a fifth-round pick on Smith in the 2013 draft because they thought player who was good enough to get three sacks against Alabama would be worth the wait. Smith suffered a torn ACL in November 2012 against Louisiana-Lafayette.
At the time he was leading the nation with 12.5 sacks, a total which included five sacks against Florida International. And after being held out of most of the Broncos' 2013 offseason work, the team had him on the field for training camp, putting him through a full docket's worth of work.
But as the preseason drew to a close and it was time for final cuts to be made to get the roster to 53, the Broncos decided Smith's knee wasn't ready and placed him on injured reserve where he remained for the rest of the season.
"We just felt like it was a good chance for him to get healthy," said Broncos head coach John Fox. "He just wasn't ready and needed more time."
"I wasn't disappointed, I kind of knew towards the end of the last preseason that I really wasn't ready," Smith said. "So I took as ... '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 ... I looked at it as something that can help me."
Broncos executive vice president of football operations/GM John Elway has talked about Smith's "unique ability to rush the passer," skills that include the ability to duck and take the outside corner against opposing tackles with the leverage to keep the advantage and get to the quarterback.
Smith also showed in his last season at Western Kentucky the ability to do what many young pass-rushers don't do enough: work to the inside. One of his sacks against Alabama -- his second of the game -- came when Smith powered through a double-team block that included Chance Warmack, a player some scouts believed was the best player available in the draft and was an eventual first-round pick in '13.
To that end, Ware has already worked with Smith on the finer points of consistently winning the one-on-one battles up front in the NFL, lessons that have included winning those close-quarter battles to get to the quarterback.
"It's more with your hands and just going through the tackle instead of trying to get around him -- using your hands and going through him, he taught me that," Smith said. "So I'm trying to work on that."
With Miller on the sidelines over the past two months, Smith got plenty of snaps with the defensive regulars. And the 252-pounder figures to be in the mix, at minimum, when the Broncos move into their rush packages out of the nickel and dime.
Smith also said this past week he wants to be about 255 or 260 pounds by the time the players report for camp July 23.
"Last year, like I said, I took it as a learning experience, just to watch and learn the playbook more and all that stuff," Smith said. "So I just took it as a learning experience."
Smith said his surgically repaired knee started to feel 100 percent about midway through last season as he went through daily workouts with the team's training staff.
"... Watching the Super Bowl was kind of hard," Smith added. "I didn't like watching that. But I knew we were going to have a better team next year. A lot of people were going to come back healthy. So I know that we've got another opportunity this year ... I've waited a long time, I think I'm ready to show what I can do and hopefully they like what the see."