Smith puts up numbers and provides inspiration
DENVER – He has rewritten Denver’s record book, put his own, unforgettable spin on the way a so-called glamour position is played and has reached the point in his career where his teammates openly call him “Old Man.”Yet for all his longevity and success, the thing 35-year-old Rod Smith might be best remembered for is the impact he has on Broncos receivers who are now what he once was – undrafted underdogs trying to prove they can make it big in the NFL.”Rod doesn’t take anything for granted,” said Charlie Adams, a third-string receiver now in his third year after being signed as a rookie free agent. “He’s out there playing like every play is his last play.” Smith declined interviews Tuesday, saying “you’re cutting into my study time.” He seems to revel in the curmudgeonly persona he gives off to outsiders in the Broncos locker room. But given where he’s come from and what he’s done, it’s hard to argue with his methods.
Last week, he had his best game of the season and one of the best of his career, catching 11 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown in a 28-17 win over Buffalo. One of his biggest catches, a 34-yarder, came off a “double-move” against Bills safety Troy Vincent – a perfectly run route in which he stopped, turned, then started downfield again to get open.Smith is a master of route-running precision, but also has good hands, a knack for finding the first-down marker and, without much argument, the best work ethic on the team.”Rod wants to be perfect,” said Todd Devoe, also an undrafted journeyman who worked his way onto the Denver roster. “Perfect every day, every play. That is the example I want to follow. He helped me at other aspects of the game. I blocked well. Just the way he goes hard provides motivation.”It could very well be the blocking that sets Smith apart in a league that has produced more and more big-yardage receivers as rules promoting passing have taken over the game.To make it into the league as an undrafted rookie from Missouri Southern, Smith had to do anything he could to get noticed. A lot of that, not surprisingly, involved proving he could block.
He prides himself on being able to seal off a corner or take a defensive back out of a running play. Look at almost any long run by a Broncos running back over the last decade and there’s a good chance Smith can be seen throwing a block, either near the edge at the line of scrimmage or somewhere downfield. Coaches credit Smith for some of the success of a running game that has been in the top five almost every year since he arrived.”When the offensive line gives the quarterback time to throw, he says they’re doing it for him, so he wants to do it for the running backs,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “When you have people who think along those terms, you have a chance to do something special as a team.”But in part because he doesn’t fit the mold of the brash, outspoken so-called superstars that play his position, and in part because he has long played on a team with a big stable of producers on offense – John Elway, Terrell Davis, Clinton Portis, Shannon Sharpe – Smith doesn’t really get his due on a national level.He has made only two Pro Bowls and isn’t a favorite to make a third come Wednesday when the 2005 rosters are unveiled.His stats, however, tell of a player who has put in many Pro Bowl performances.
He is Denver’s all-time leader in receptions (791), receiving yards (10,775) and touchdown catches (65). Early this season, he became the first undrafted player in NFL history to crack 10,000 yards.As much as those numbers, though, it is the example he sets and the legacy he’s leaving that is most impressive.Devoe and Adams are the latest of the underdog receivers who have come to Denver in hopes of being like Smith. If they do half as well, the Broncos will have found themselves quite a bargain.”He wants us to succeed,” Adams said. “Every year, he always tells the young receivers in training camp that he knows some of us aren’t going to be here, but he wants all of us to make it. He tells us to do what you have to do so the coaches have a really hard decision to make.”
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