If there was one player with the cachet and chutzpah to walk into Head Coach Mike Shanahan’s office and discuss exactly what ailed the offense in the early season, it was Rod Smith, the long-time team captain whose success in orange and blue closely parallels that of his coach in their 11 and a half seasons together.
With six games already complete and the Broncos averaging just 13.2 points an outing to that point, Smith knew he had to say some things to his teammates, to his coaches, to anyone who would listen. But first, he wanted to check things out with Shanahan, to make sure that taking such liberties would be protected by the Broncos’ figurative constitution, of which Shanahan would be its chief architect.
“We had a personal conversation, just what my thoughts were on some things that I can do down here (in the locker room) as well as making sure that I had the latitude to say certain things,” Smith said. You don’t want to step on anybody’s toes in this business and he’s the guy that pulls the trigger, so I wanted to make sure that I was on the right page of what I was thinking, and the way I was relaying that message to the guys.”
Smith has long been something of a de facto coach in the locker room, offering fellow wide receivers — and anyone who asks, for that matter — counsel on matters ranging from route-running to asset management.
This time, though, it wouldn’t be just Smith taking his message directly to everyone — but Shanahan passing along his thoughts.
“(Shanahan) understood and he agreed with me on a lot of points,” Smith said, “and at the same time he relayed that information to the coaches on what I saw from the inside, and as a group, we found a way to get it better.”
That also involved Shanahan helping Smith better understand the changing dynamics of the offense, the Pro Bowler recalled. Only two starting slots had changed early in the season from the previous year: Tatum Bell for Mike Anderson at tailback and Javon Walker for Ashley Lelie at one wide receiver slot. But with newcomers dotting the depth of the offense, including rookie backups at tailback and quarterback, a backup (now starting) tackle who was in NFL Europe just six months ago, two new tight ends and a quartet of new wide receivers (now a quintet with Brian Clark on the 53-man roster), there were plenty of fresh faces who needed a crash indoctrination into the Broncos’ way of doing things.
“I didn’t really realize that until Coach Shanahan and I talked about it,” Smith said. “So you have a standard and some of those guys really don’t know what their standard is, so we basically have to start over and revamp it and let them know exactly what is expected, and they know what they can expect from me, and now I know what I can expect out of them. I think our coaching staff did a great job of actually relaying that information better.”
In accelerating from 13 points an outing in games 1-6 to a 31-point rate in the last two weeks, the offense hasn’t merely gotten better; it’s experienced a total reversal.
“We’re playing with a lot more confidence as a unit, and that can take you a long way,” Smith said, “but you’ve still got to go out there physically and get it done. We have a lot of guys that we depend on to get it done and those guys are stepping it up and get it done.”