April 02, 2015

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Dove Valley is beginning to look like a class reunion.

On Thursday, center Gino Gradkowski passed his physical, completing his trade from Baltimore, and veteran defensive lineman Antonio Smith signed a one-year, $2 million deal with the Broncos.

They are the fourth and fifth players to reunite with coach Gary Kubiak in Denver.

Smith is a 12th-year pro who was solid in Oakland last year, starting every game and collecting three sacks, 20 tackles and one forced fumble. The Raiders saved more than $3 million by releasing him Tuesday.

Smith also played in Arizona from 2004-08, but his best years were in Houston, where Denver's new coach was in charge of the Texans from 2006-13.

Since Kubiak's hiring, the Broncos have also acquired Owen Daniels and Shelley Smith, both of whom played in Houston during Kubiak's eight-year run as Texans coach. Daniels also played last year in Baltimore, where Kubiak was offensive coordinator.

Darian Stewart also followed Kubiak from Baltimore.

''I think bringing in players that he's had before will help bring in players that understand the offense and will help bring the other players along with learning that offense,'' Gradkowski said. ''That's a benefit.''

In Gradkowski, the Broncos landed a relatively nimble 300-pound center who's versed in the zone blocking scheme favored by Kubiak and his offensive coordinator Rick Dennison.

Gradkowski backed up Matt Birk his rookie season in 2012 and started every game in 2013. But he played in just eight games last year once the Ravens obtained Jeremy Zuttah from the Buccaneers.

''It was very difficult for me, but I came out of it a better player and a better person,'' Gradkowski said. ''I have a chip on my shoulder now. I feel like I have a lot to prove and I can't wait to get started with that. In terms of Coach Kubiak's offense, it gave me a chance to learn his offense and gave me a chance to understand it a lot better.''

Due $1.574 million in 2015, the final year of his rookie contract, Gradkowski will compete with greenhorn Matt Paradis and veteran Manny Ramirez for the right to snap to the notoriously demanding Peyton Manning.

''He is a guy that I've grown up watching and is one of the brightest players in the league right now,'' Gradkowski said. ''I'm really looking forward to learning from him and working alongside him. I know that he'll make me a better player for sure.''


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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