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Antonio Smith's roles: nickel pass rush, leadership

The Broncos' interest in defensive end Antonio Smith upon his release from the Oakland Raiders last week was as immediate as it was logical, given his pass-rushing strengths as a 3-4 defensive end and his past work with Broncos coaches Gary Kubiak, Wade Phillips and Bill Kollar.

But it took a little while before he was aware of it.

"Me and Bill Kollar have a good relationship. But I had an old phone number that he had, and he said he called (that) as soon as it went across the wire, him and Coach Kub," Smith said.

"They said that they called right off the bat, but I didn't receive or know that they called probably until later on that night, and I didn't talk to them until the next day."

After they finally got in touch, the wheels turned. Barely 48 hours passed from the first reports of Smith's release and the Broncos' announcement that they agreed to terms with the 12-year veteran.

Smith will find an immediate role as a pass-rushing 3-technique defensive end when the Broncos go into their nickel package. That should keep him busy against teams that play a majority of their snaps against formations with at least three wide receivers.

"Most of the reps in this league are played in nickel packages and sub packages and pass-rush downs," Smith said. "A lot of the teams are more pass-predicated offenses, so I'm looking to get a lot of reps."

It was in a pass-rushing role that he flourished with the Texans from 2009-13. Smith amassed 27 sacks in five seasons with the Texans -- including 18.5 from 2011-13, after Phillips became their defensive coordinator. In those three years, only then-teammate J.J. Watt and Arizona's Calais Campbell had more quarterback hits (as tallied by ProFootballFocus.com) from a 3-4 end position than Smith.

"What Coach Kollar told me is that I'm going to basically be doing the same thing: rushing the passer," Smith said. "It's more predicated on rushing the passer, coming in on nickel downs and in the nickel package and pass-rush downs and getting after the quarterback.

"[Kollar] said he watched a lot of film from last year and checked me out, seeing if I still knew how to get to the passer, so that's exactly what he wants me to do, is get after the quarterback."

Smith's 2009 Houston arrival coincided with that of Kollar, who at that point had coached 20 seasons in the NFL after playing eight for the Cincinnati Bengals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Kollar's demanding-yet-fair style has made him one of the league's best motivators and teachers of defensive-line technique, and eventually meshed with Smith.

"When I first came to Houston, we had a rocky relationship -- and those always turn out to be some of the greatest relationships, where you get an understanding of what type of man he is, (and he understands) what type of man I am," Smith said. "You know he'll work you. He wants you to work.

"To me, he coaches like a football player. He's excited. He's going to get on you, but at the same time, you know he's in it for your best interest, and he has played the game before at a high level, so you know he knows what he's talking about."

And as the only defensive lineman on the roster with prior experience under Kollar, Smith is in position to help underscore the teachings to be conveyed to the Broncos' defensive linemen.

"Every tip that he's ever given me has always been accurate and remained true, as older as I got and some of the experience that I've had, everything that he gave me, the wisdom that he gave me, it was right on point and it helped out a lot," Smith said.

Smith was a team captain in Houston. The "C" patch might not be in his future, not with outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware returning and cornerback Chris Harris Jr. establishing himself as a focal point in the locker room. But Smith can -- and will -- be a leader, guiding young players.

Smith said when he played for Arizona from 2004-08, not every veteran helped him out.

"Back then it was more or less the guys trying to keep their jobs and different things like that. It was only really three guys that I really got a lot of help from as far as veterans," Smith said. "I always kind of vowed that I would be that type of guy.

"Anything that I got -- I mean anything, anything they need from me: advice, help, they need me stay after practice with them or whatever it is to teach them something -- I'm an open book. I don't keep secrets and try not to educate you so that one day you might not come take my job or anything like that. I do take pride in teaching the craft and giving the craft out.

"It's not a thing where I want to keep every little thing that I use to get my edge for myself. I'm always in it for helping my teammates. Everything I do, I do it with passion and I do it with my heart. When I do things with my heart, I tend to get close to everybody that I've ever played with. When you do that, you respect each other and you play better. You listen to them and their advice and they listen to you and your advice.

"I think that's the best type of leader, being a server. If you can serve your teammates, they'll listen to you and let you lead them because they know you understand where they're coming from."

Take a look through the career of new Broncos defensive lineman Antonio Smith.

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