|Former Broncos WR Rod Smith hasn't strayed far from the organization since retiring in 2008. (Andrew Mason)|
Rod Smith goes into the Broncos' Ring of Fame on Sunday for his accomplishments from 1994-2008, in which he became the Broncos' all-time leader in receptions, receiving yardage and touchdowns.
But his contributions didn't end there, as it turned out. After his old quarterback, John Elway, returned to the team as an executive vice president in January 2011, Smith was invited back to speak with the current Broncos and be an unofficial consultant.
During one of his visits to Broncos headquarters last November, he walked into the wide receivers' room to see a downcast group. The Broncos were winning -- they had won four games in succession with Tim Tebow at the controls -- but the run-centric offense had left the receivers with little to do but block.
"They were frustrated. They were hurt. They were catching two balls thrown to them a game, and they were frustrated," Smith recalled.
In the previous four games, when the Broncos went full-tilt into the zone-read option, Demaryius Thomas had caught just three passes for 66 yards, and Eric Decker had just seven catches for 146 yards. Three of Decker's receptions had gone for touchdowns.
But the Broncos were winning, so they put on a positive face for the public -- a guard the receivers let down when Smith walked into the room.
Smith, who broke into the league as an undrafted free agent on the Broncos' practice squad in 1994 and became the most prolific undrafted receiver in league history, wasn't going to stand for that.
"I said, 'Guys, that part, you don't control,'" Smith recalled. "'You control how you come out of the huddle, how you run your route. You control that. You control blocking in the run game.
"'I know it sucks. It sucks to be a receiver and not know if you're going to get the ball, ever. You never know. But what makes you a champion is when you go out there thinking it's coming to you anyway and you go out there and go to work."
The speech appeared to have a profound impact on Thomas, who has exploded in the nine games since then, averaging 5.3 receptions, 103.7 yards and 0.75 touchdowns per game. His per-game averages before them were 1.8 receptions, 17.9 yards and 0.19 touchdowns per game.
"Whether it helped out, I don't know, but his approach seemed different from that day forward," Smith said.