Denver WR Smith Questionable for Week One, Hixon Might Take Over Starting Spot

Smith 

During an interview with ESPN, Denver Broncos WR Rod Smith (hip) said he does not think he will be geared up and suited to play for the start of the regular season at Buffalo. An End to a Tremendous Legacy?  Smith, who will enter his 13th season in the NFL, all while wearing the Blue & Orange uni’s with Denver, is the most prolific and best all-time WR in Broncos history. 

At 6-foot, 200 pounds, this WR makes up for his lack of blazing speed with toughness, smarts, great hands, and good route running.  Smith has been a staple in the Denver offense under coach Mike Shanahan and has his picture next to the defined word “consistency” in the dictionary.  This Arkansas native came out of little-known school called Missouri Southern State, and was an undrafted free agent in 1995.  He came out on to the national spotlight in 1997 when he hauled in 70 passes for 1,180 yards, giving him 16.9 yards a catch, on the end of a career-high 12 touchdown receptions. 

His career totals consist of:  849 catches, 11,389 yards, 13.4 ypc avg., for 69 touchdowns, and counting, in an illustrious span of 12 seasons for the Denver Broncos.  In ’06 he only tallied up 52 receptions for 512 yards, on three scores for the year.  Besides for 1996, (6 games missed) Rod Smith has suited up in every game except for an astounding three.  He is a great blocker and has had a Hall of Fame type of career, to go along with two Super Bowl rings.  Smith is a fan favorite, a red zone mismatch for corners, and a great target for young QB Jay Cutler.  If he were to hang up the cleats, call it quits, turning in the #80 jersey, he would deserve a standing “O” from the entire NFL; as a true professional, great WR, and an all-around good individual. 

Denver would surely miss him and would have to move on and develop a young WR from Akron to replace him and try to fill in his “big” shoes.  Taking Advantage of Opportunity to Replace Rod Smith:  You should look no further than Columbus native, WR Domenik Hixon.  This former Akron Zip has the size (6-foot 2, 192 pounds) and talent (caught All-Pro CB Champ Bailey’s eye) to become a mainstay in Denver, opposite of star WR Javon Walker for the “Mile High” offense, catching passes from Jay Cutler week in, week out.  So far he has been very impressive after breaking his foot, (ending his rookie season) recovering, making his way up the WR depth chart for Denver. 

It’s not every day the perennial Pro Bowl cornerback dishes out props for a young receiver, but the defensive star Champ Bailey is amazed by the second-year pro.  “I’ll tell you what, man, he’s a guy that we could have used last year,” Bailey said. “He’s got great ability, great talent. You wonder how it’s going to translate to games, but he looks good. He looks as good as most of our receivers. He has the ability to start. I just hope he fights for it.”

Hixon is going to get lots of opportunities to impress the coaching staff when the exhibition games start because the Broncos’ receiving core is spending more time recovering than catching passes.  “The funny thing is he’s 6-foot-2 but he can run like crazy and then he can stop on a dime,” Bailey said. “I mean, you don’t see a lot of receivers who can do that with blazing speed like he has.”  Special teams coach Scott O’Brien also is drooling over Hixon and can’t wait to see him returning punts.

“He’s got speed for big plays,” O’Brien said. “The history of the NFL shows you don’t need great speed to be a great returner:  Dave Meggett, Mel Mitchell. But then you have the guys that had it, too. And he’s got great explosive speed that can get you big plays if you get him in the open.”  “But for his size, he’s got really good short-area ability. So, he can make the first guy miss.”  He’s shifty like a scatback but has the speed and size to be something special in a variety of roles. “Yeah, he can stop on a dime and then get off that dime in a hurry,” O’Brien said. “He’s got great body control. My thing is now is he’s starting to see the big picture, starting to set up blocks, that kind of stuff. He can do it. But all the good ones have to make the first player miss and he’s got those physical skills.” 

Hixon seems just as happy to showcase his skills on special teams as he is to go long for Jay Cutler’s long bombs. “I’m hungry. I’m going to take advantage whether I get one play or 100 plays,” Hixon said. He did suffer a stress fracture on his pro workout day 16 months ago but didn’t recognize it and ran on it for two more weeks, figuring it was just a painful sprain that would go away. The Broncos went ahead and selected him in the fourth round but he missed all of training camp and then was on the sidelines all last season, his adjustment to this level limited to mental work.  “I did a lot of undercover scouting last year,” Hixon said. “I sat there with paper and pen during practice taking notes to myself.” 

He also jotted down bits of advice from Walker and Smith, valuable information he’s putting to use on the field now that he’s healthy.  “It was tough sitting out because it’s been a dream of mine since I was a young kid, so to actually make it but then to put it on hold for another year? I couldn’t wait to get out there,” Hixon said. “When we started our little conditioning phase this offseason, I was excited. Everybody was like, ‘What’s wrong with this guy?’  But I couldn’t wait. This is a dream, a blessing. This is my shot. So, let’s go.”


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