ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – They were a part of the Denver Broncos’ rookie class last season, but Quanterus Smith and Lerentee McCray didn't get to run in the offense, as Montee Ball did, or start on defense, as Sylvester Williams did. Smith and McCray were relegated to interested bystander status as the team went about the business of a Super Bowl trip, spending the season on injured reserve.
But the Broncos believed time would heal the two, and in a defensive makeover where Smith and McCray aren’t often listed as two of the “new" faces, they have each shown they’ll make some impact in the defense as the Broncos try to add a little production on that side of the ball.
“You hope so," McCray said. “I just know it feels great to be out there, try to show what I can do."
Smith tore an ACL in the 11th game of his senior season at Western Kentucky. He was leading the nation in sacks at the time with 12.5, including three sacks against an Alabama offensive line that was stocked with NFL draft picks.
The Broncos saw enough to take him with the first of their fifth-round picks in the 2013 draft, and even as Smith kept saying he would “be full go" by the time the 2013 regular season rolled around, the Broncos weren’t convinced. After watching Smith work through training camp and the preseason last year, the place him on injured reserve when they cut the roster to 53 players.
“He just needed more time," said Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway. “You could kind of see that as he went through camp and as we’ve gone through offseason, you can see it helped him."
For his part McCray, who had been signed as an undrafted rookie following the 2013 draft, was on track to make the roster and keep a decade-long streak of at least one undrafted rookie advancing past the final cut. Then he suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the preseason finale against the Arizona Cardinals.
“Not being out there last year, it just hurt me," McCray said. “So I bring that energy and that attitude and that emotion out there to the field when I go play.”
And while Elway’s high-profile maneuvers to repair the team’s defense – signing DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward in free agency – have led most any discussion about the team’s makeover on that side of the ball. The Broncos also want, and need, some of the other “additions" to work out as well.
Those include the five starters who finished the season on injured reserve in 2013, players such as cornerback Chris Harris Jr., defensive end Derek Wolfe and linebacker Von Miller, as well as fit-and-play players such as Smith and McCray.
Smith, who has spent training camp as Ware’s backup, played 31 plays against the Seahawks on Thursday and consistently forced the issue in the pass rush. McCray, who has played with the starting defense at strong-side linebacker as Miller continues to work back from ACL surgery, finished out with 32 plays in the preseason opener.
McCray had a tackle for loss against the Seahawks.
“It felt good to be out there," Smith said. “ … I just want to keep building on it, learn from DeMarcus and produce whenever they put me out there."
McCray has similar motivation.
“I’ve just grown as a better player, just a better football player overall — special teams to defense, anything I’m asked to do," McCray said. “I have an understanding of what I have to do to get my job done and all I have to do is go out there and get it done. Not being out last year, it just hurt me. So I bring that energy and that attitude and that emotion out there to the field when I go play.”