Broncos Update Insider - Friday, Dec. 23

Denver Broncos wide receiver Rod Smith doesn't seek out much attention and doesn't receive too much of it outside of Denver, so his Pro Bowl invitation came as a bit of a surprise. Read about Smith and all the latest notes, quotes and personnel updates in today's edition of "Broncos Update Insider."

Wide receiver Rod Smith doesn't seek out much attention and doesn't receive too much of it outside of Denver, so his Pro Bowl invitation came as a bit of a surprise.

Smith had the credentials to make the team. He is fifth in the AFC in receiving yards and catches, and has six touchdowns. Smith made it ahead of Indianapolis' Reggie Wayne and Pittsburgh's Hines Ward, who have better numbers than Smith in some categories. Broncos safety John Lynch said he thought Smith's inclusion on the AFC roster was a nod to Smith's all-around game.

Smith is a big reason Denver has a good running game. He is a solid blocker, and he is also an unselfish receiver who doesn't dwell on his own stats.

"That's always such a numbers position," Lynch said. "Aside from all the production and numbers Rod brings, he brings so much other intangibles to this team. He's really one of the greatest players I've ever had the opportunity to play with and he's deserving."

Smith, who has 79 catches, 1,003 yards and six touchdowns this season, didn't speak to reporters about being named to the Pro Bowl.

Smith's importance to the Broncos can be seen through the stats of the other receivers in the offense. Smith has 44 more catches than Jeb Putzier, who is second on the Broncos. He has only 99 fewer yards than Putzier and Ashley Lelie, who are second and third on the Broncos, combined.

When Jake Plummer faces a critical play he almost always looks to Smith, and Smith usually comes through.

"When he's involved in a route, I know he's going to be open for me and I can count on him," Plummer said. "That's what matters when you've got a receiver. You've got to have that trust factor, and I definitely trust him when he's out there."

Against Buffalo last week, the Broncos didn't worry about spreading the ball around that much. Plummer had 10 completions in the first half and nine went to Smith, including Denver's lone touchdown of the first half.

Smith finished with 11 catches for 137 yards in a nationally televised game, and that might have put him over the top for Pro Bowl voting.

Smith is 35 years old but seems to be getting better late in the season. He has had at least five catches in every game since Oct. 23. Smith has a strict off-season conditioning regiment, and it seems to be paying off this season.

"The great ones keep on competing," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said about Smith. "They take pride in everything they do."

SERIES HISTORY: 91st meeting. The Oakland Raiders lead the series over the Denver Broncos 53-35-2. Denver and Oakland have split two playoff games. The Broncos won at Oakland 31-17 earlier this season. But the Broncos remember a late season game last season, when the Raiders upset them 25-24 in a snowy game at Invesco Field at Mile High.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Cornerback Darrent Williams said his recovery from a groin injury is going better than expected, and he was hopeful to return for Denver's second-round playoff game.

Williams hurt his groin on Dec. 11 against Baltimore. The initial diagnosis was he would miss six to eight weeks, which put his availability for the playoffs in doubt.

"If we get a bye, that sounds realistic for me to come back for that first playoff game," Williams said. "We're just taking it day by day and week by week right now. It depends how fast I heal up."

Williams, a rookie who has started almost all season for Denver, has been rehabbing the groin four to five hours per day.

"It's real aggressive," Williams said. "We've been trying to go at it pretty tough."

--Denver had four players make the Pro Bowl. Receiver Rod Smith, cornerback Champ Bailey, safety John Lynch and linebacker Al Wilson. Wilson, Bailey and Lynch all said that making the Pro Bowl was nice but it wasn't their ultimate goal.

"Individual awards are always good," Wilson said. "But I think any one of these guys that made it would trade it in for a Super Bowl ring."

--Quarterback Jake Plummer was not named to his first Pro Bowl, despite having a solid season for the Broncos. Before the voting was announced, Plummer said he was unconcerned about the honor.

"The Pro Bowl is something I've never been to," Plummer said. "As a player you would love to go, but it doesn't mean anything as far as what I am doing for my team."

BY THE NUMBERS: 6 - The Broncos have won six consecutive games played on Saturday. They beat Buffalo in a Saturday game last week and finish the regular season with two Saturday games. The streak started in the 1997 playoffs.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You always bring it up one time. You don't dwell on it. We talked about them coming into our backyard and beating us at home after we dominated the game the first time." - Broncos coach Mike Shanahan on losing 25-24 to Oakland last season at home, after beating the Raiders at Oakland earlier in the season.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Denver's special teams probably won't make many big plays without cornerback Darrent Williams returning kicks, but they showed against Buffalo that they can handle some of the best returners in the game.

Buffalo's Terrence McGee got a long return to start the game on a pooch kickoff attempt that didn't work out well. After that the Broncos kicked off normally and didn't have any problems with McGee, one of the best returners in the game. Punter Todd Sauerbrun, who has made a big impact on Denver's special teams, also took dangerous Bills punt returner Roscoe Parrish out of the game. Parrish didn't have a return against Denver.

Denver played very well early in the season on special teams and has had a little bit of a letdown in the past few weeks, but the Broncos have the talent to finish strong.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--G Ben Hamilton was named a third alternate to the Pro Bowl. Hamilton has had a solid season and is one of the main reasons Denver is second in the NFL in rushing offense.

--DT Gerard Warren doesn't have great statistics this season but he has had a solid year. He has helped Denver's run defense from middle of the line. He has taken up blockers and allowed the Broncos' linebackers to pile up tackle statistics.

--LB Al Wilson was voted to the Pro Bowl. Wilson has been selected to the game three other times, and this is one of his best seasons. Wilson is second on the Broncos with 85 tackles.

--CB Champ Bailey said the eight interceptions he has this season isn't the proof he is having a good season. Bailey has been pleased with his consistency this year, after having an up-and-down season last year. Bailey made his sixth straight Pro Bowl.

--C Tom Nalen was named as a first alternate to the Pro Bowl. Jeff Hartings of Pittsburgh and Jeff Saturday of Indianapolis made it on the team ahead of Nalen. Nalen has been the anchor for an offensive line that has ran the ball well all season.



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