Broncos bolstered pass rush more than anyone thought


ENGLEWOOD | The big addition to the Denver Broncos’ pass rush this year had a jaw-dropping preseason, one in which he led the team with 15 tackles, a dozen solo stops, four sacks, four tackles for loss and nine quarterback hurries.

No, not first-round pick Shane Ray.

Denver Broncos linebacker Shaquil Barrett (48) celebrates a sack with teammate Sione Fua (72) against the Arizona Cardinals during the second half of an NFL preseason football game, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)Second-year pro Shaquil Barrett, an undrafted free agent out of Colorado State who spent most of last season on the practice squad and who never saw the field during the three weeks he was on the active roster.

“He had a great offseason,” general manager John Elway gushed. “And he’s going to be a big help for us this year.”

Barrett will team with Ray, Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Lerentee McCray to give defensive coordinator Wade Phillips an enviable wave of outside linebackers to spring on quarterbacks, starting with Joe Flacco on Sunday.

Barrett also forced a fumble and broke up a pass in the preseason, which he capped with a two-sack performance against Arizona.

“Forty-eight continues to stand out to me,” coach Gary Kubiak said afterward.

Twelfth-year defensive end Antonio Smith knew all about the other pass rushers when he joined the Broncos this offseason, but wondered who this No. 48 was making all the plays, and he wasn’t alone.

“I just think nobody knew he was good,” Smith said. “He was beating everybody. Our coach Bill (Kollar) said it the best. He was like, ‘When we first got here, I didn’t know who this cuss-word Shaq was. Now everybody knows who Shaq is.’

“They only come every so often, natural pass rushers,” Smith added. “I don’t think I saw one person teach Shaq a move out there. I don’t remember who worked with him to teach him secret moves, different moves.”

Barrett credits his spectacular summer to a change in his diet, one that helped him maintain his 245-pound weight but redistributed muscle in his upper body and trimmed the fat from his belly.

“I just started eating different and having my wife meal prep for me and stuff like that to change my body shape. I came here at probably 18 percent body fat and I have it down to around 11 right now,” he said. “I lost a couple of pounds, so I’m a little bit more explosive off the edge and have a quicker first step. It has helped me out a lot.”

Despite his spectacular summer, Barrett was nervous on cutdown day and spent his time doing the dishes and hoping his cellphone didn’t ring.

“Once the call never came … I started getting happy,” he said. “I just told myself it’s just the beginning now. I just have to keep it up.”

NOTES: Now that Emmanuel Sanders has returned from a pulled hamstring that sidelined him for most of training camp, the Pro Bowl receiver is eager to return punts. “Why not? It’s an opportunity to get the ball in my hands. It’s an opportunity to make more plays,” said Sanders, who hasn’t returned punts since his senior year at SMU in 2009.

Sure, it’s risky, Sanders said, but “I think every play that you’re out there, obviously, you’re putting yourself at risk.” … Kubiak said the Broncos cut RB Montee Ball from the 53-man roster because they were able to re-sign second-year RB Kapri Bibbs to their practice squad. … LG Evan Mathis said he’ll be able to play a full game Sunday just two weeks after signing. … Denver bolstered its thin TE group by claiming Mitchell Henry off waivers from Green Bay. Henry had chosen the Packers over Denver when he went undrafted in the spring, but they tried to slip him onto their practice squad after he broke his left middle finger in training camp and had to catch one-handed. He’s now in a splint.