No Denver Broncos rookie was more giddy at his new surroundings at the weekend rookie minicamp than running back Montee Ball.
The second-round draft pick from Wisconsin grew up as a fervent Broncos fan in Wentzville, Mo. He picked up the team in second grade when Terrell Davis was the team's bellwether running back.
Ball's favorite player to this day is Davis, the 1998 MVP and Super Bowl XXXII MVP, and even as he arrived for rookie camp, he still viewed the Broncos with a fan's sense of awe.
"I was like a little kid, as soon as I put the jersey on, the shorts, the cleats, I wanted to take all sorts of pictures and send them to my friends," he said. "But it's all about business."
Ball's business as a Bronco will have to wait one week. He is ineligible to practice until Wisconsin's spring semester ends. He will return when the Broncos begin organized team activities on May 20, at which point he'll meet his veteran teammates, led by quarterback Peyton Manning.
Manning and Ball have exchanged text messages since the draft, but the in-person meeting will be different -- especially for Ball, who as a Broncos fan, pulled hard for Manning last fall as he led Denver to its first winning season in six years.
"I'm very excited, very thrilled to meet him," Ball said. "But I always tell myself, 'don't act like a fan' when I meet him because it's time to get to work."
The only draft pick who didn't practice at rookie camp was fifth-round defensive end Quanterus Smith, who continues to rehabilitate from the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee that he suffered last November. The injury put a premature end to his senior season at Western Kentucky. At the time he was hurt, he led the Football Bowl Subdivision with 12.5 sacks.
Smith, who said he began running the week after the Indianapolis scouting combine in February, is not expected to practice with the Broncos until the start of training camp.
"I've just got to work hard to get back but it is a little frustrating," Smith said.
But he should be heartened by how the Broncos' brain trust sees his potential role. During a mid-week conference call with 5,000 Broncos season-ticket holders, executive vice president John Elway pointed to Smith as part of the plan to replace Elvis Dumervil, along with returning defensive end Robert Ayers and free-agent pickup Shaun Phillips, who will also back up at strong-side linebacker.
"Pass rushers are always tough to find, and I think we more than replaced Elvis as far as being able to put pressure on the quarterback," Elway said. "I think one great thing about us is that if you look where we were in sacks last year, we were No. 1 in the league in sacks, so we have a lot of different people that can put pressure on the quarterback, not only as individuals, but also what Jack Del Rio does scheme-wise. So we're going to have the ability to pressure people, whether Elvis is here or not."
But how much pressure comes from Smith will depend on his knee.
"All the drills I've been doing, I felt good in them, so I feel good about it," Smith said. "It just takes time. I'm just waiting on time."