ENGLEWOOD — The Denver Broncos needed more muscle and hustle in their defensive line, and they knew right where to go to get it, acquiring versatile end Le Kevin Smith from New England for a fifth-round pick today.
The Patriots, loaded with talent and depth along the defensive line, needed a fifth-round draft pick to send to the Oakland Raiders to complete their recent trade for defensive end Derrick Burgess, and the Broncos needed more athleticism and strength up front to make their conversion to a 3-4 scheme successful.
That point was driven home in their preseason opener at San Francisco, where the Broncos, who started free agent Ryan McBean at the five-technique, or power end, spot, allowed the Niners’ backup running backs to average 5.1 yards a carry.
“We’re just trying to improve the football team in every way we can,” Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said. “If there’s a player at any position that could help us or we feel could improve our depth or talent, at any position, we would take a look at him. He certainly is a guy that we’ve evaluated and feel like he could fit what we’re doing.”
Smith is a versatile 6-foot-3, 308-pound player from Nebraska who appeared in 28 games as a backup the last two seasons with the Patriots, who drafted him in the sixth round in 2006. McDaniels is familiar with Smith from his days as an assistant on Bill Belichick’s staff in New England.
“Denver has a similar scheme to New England and there’s some familiarity between him and the coach,” Smith’s agent, Adisa Bakari, told The Associated Press. “He’s a guy who can play both the traditional 4-3 at defensive tackle and also has the athleticism and size to be a 3-4 defensive end.
“That’s a skill set that’s not very common. The 3-4 relies on an athletic, 300-pound defensive end and they don’t make a lot of those anymore.”
Smith, however, was expendable in New England, where the defensive line is the team’s deepest position. He was summoned off the field during the Patriots’ practice Monday morning in Foxborough, Mass.
“It’s a situation where they know the player, they’ve been with the player,” Belichick said after practice. “You probably want to trade for somebody you know. I’m sure that’s part of it.”
To make room for Smith, the Broncos released defensive end Rulon Davis, an undrafted rookie.
Smith was expected to fly to Denver for a physical and join the team for its Tuesday afternoon practice at Dove Valley.
“I figure it will be another strength to the D-line,” McBean said. “He has to be a strength to the team. Any help is good help.”
McDaniels now has four former Patriots on the roster that’s he’s brought with him to Denver — Jabar Gaffney, LaMont Jordan, Lonie Paxton and Smith — plus holdover Daniel Graham.
Smith is the first defensive player from that group of former Patriots.
“We need all the help we can get,” defensive lineman Marcus Thomas said. “He’s a veteran. He knows the scheme.”
“It can’t hurt,” defensive linemen Nic Clemons agreed. “He brings experience.”
Along with athleticism and bulk at the power defensive end spot, two essential elements of any successful 3-4 scheme.