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Broncos' Smith's bum hip making slow progress

| Wednesday, July 11, 2007

DENVER — Rod Smith is letting his surgically repaired hip tell him when he's ready to return to the field.

Right now, it's saying it's not even close.

The 37-year-old receiver, who had an operation on the hip in February, sat out the Broncos' two-day minicamp. He's yet to run post-surgery except briefly in a pool.

Smith doesn't know if he'll be healed in time for training camp, which begins July 29. And when asked about possibly hanging it up, the Broncos' all-time leader in touchdowns and receptions said the thought hasn't entered his mind.

"If I think that, then I quit," Smith said Tuesday. "Why think that• I don't think that way."

Smith was supposed to go in for a routine scope, but the hip was such a mess — torn labrum, frayed cartilage, bone spurs, floating fragments — that it turned into a major surgery. His surgeon even wondered how he made it through last season.

He was off the crutches by May, but it's been slow going ever since.

"You can't rush something like this," Smith said.

Watching from the sideline has been hard for Smith, who joined the team as an undrafted free agent in 1994. Smith has never missed a single day of the team's offseason strength and conditioning program so this is a new experience.

"You can't set a timetable for me," Smith said. "My body sets the timetable. If it's not time, I'm not going out there."

Smith has earned the right to set his own rehab schedule. The former Missouri Southern standout has more receptions (849), receiving yards (11,389) and touchdowns (68) than any undrafted player in NFL history.

The Broncos want to take the cautious route as well.

"We don't want to push him too hard or we'll set him back," coach Mike Shanahan said. "The more he can do the more we will push him."

Smith thought he'd be further along by now. And while he's trying to remain upbeat, it's difficult.

"Everybody's body is different," he said. "When you get a little older, it takes a little longer. My body said, 'No, you're not (ready).' I have to listen. The thing is getting ready for football season. I know camp is a part of the season, but football season starts in September. That's what I'm looking forward to."

Smith, who's starting to gray around the temples, watched the receivers run passing routes Tuesday. Denver has some depth at the position with Javon Walker, Brandon Marshall, Brandon Stokley, David Kircus and up-and-comer Domenik Hixon all vying for playing time.

"We have a lot of untested guys, but I think we've got a lot of talent," Shanahan said. "It will be interesting to see who stays healthy, who steps up and makes plays when it counts."

Smith knows he has work to do when he returns. There's no guaranteed roster spot. Just ask Jerry Rice, who retired two years ago after it became clear he wasn't going to make the Broncos squad.

But that's the way Smith prefers it.

"Everybody should be unsure of their status," said Smith, who had just 512 yards receiving last season, only the second time in 10 years he's failed to reach 1,000. "No one is guaranteed a job around here. I'm fighting for a job on the team, that's nothing new to me. I've done that for 13 years. Going into my 14th year, I plan on doing the same thing.

"I've never been safe in my entire career."

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