Tremon Smith, then a Houston Texans cornerback, wore an NFL Films microphone for a Dec. 19, 2021 game at Jacksonville. As he prepared to field a kickoff, he said to a teammate, “I’m itching to do something.”
Smith sure did do something. He returned the kickoff 98 yards for his first NFL touchdown.
“I felt like I was on top of the world after that return,’’ Smith said in a phone interview with The Denver Gazette.
Smith, 26, wants to have that feeling again, but this time with the Broncos. Smith, entering his sixth NFL season, recently signed a two-year, $5 million contract with Denver as a free agent.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Smith was brought in to provide depth in the secondary and be a fixture on special teams. Perhaps he will make his biggest impact for the Broncos as a kickoff returner.
Smith, who had stints with Kansas City, Green Bay, Philadelphia and Indianapolis before spending the past two seasons with the Texans, has a career average of 24.7 yards on 94 kickoff returns. Consider that last season Denver averaged just 17.5 yards as a team on kickoff returns.
Smith made an impact early in his career after being a sixth-round draft pick by the Chiefs in 2018 out of Central Arkansas. In just his fourth NFL game, he returned a kickoff 97 yards against New England, coming up just shy of scoring.
“Just always the home run,’’ Smith said of what he could bring to Denver’s return game. “If they kick me the ball, I’m always a home-run threat. I can score. I have the vision, just the home-run ability to get into the end zone. So just a little excitement in that return game. Look for a couple of touchdowns.”
That touchdown Smith scored against the Jaguars remains the only one of his career. But if you get the idea Smith is a confident guy, you would be right
“I’m pretty confident, 10 out of 10,’’ Smith said. “And that mainly comes from the offseason work I put in and the work I put in during the season.”
Smith also can return punts, although he hasn’t had similar success to what he has done on kickoffs. He has returned just nine in his career for a 6.0-yard average.
At cornerback, Smith has started just five of 66 career games. But he has had his moments. Against Dallas last December, Smith entered the game as an injury replacement and ended up picking off Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott twice for what remains the only interceptions of his career.
“That showed that no matter how you look at me, I’m always prepared to step in and just be ready to compete,’’ Smith said. “I’m very confident in all of my abilities. I feel have no real weaknesses in my game.”
Nevertheless, it hasn’t always been an easy road for Smith. He has been waived five times in his NFL career and has had to spend time on practice squads with the Packers, Eagles and Colts. But he became a more established player the past two seasons, playing in all 17 games in each. And that earned him the first multi-year contract of his career.
“It feels really good,’’ said Smith, a native of Anniston, Ala., who played at nearby Saks High School. “It feels amazing to make it to this level and sign a multi-year contract. I graduated from a tiny high school. I went to a small college.”
Smith said it primarily came down to the Broncos and the Texans in vying for his services. He said Houston offered similar money, but a good bit was in incentives rather than being guaranteed. The Broncos signed him to a deal with a signing bonus of $1.4 million and a guaranteed 2023 salary of $1.1 million.
“Of course, I had to go with the guaranteed money,’’ Smith said. “And just the opportunity to join the Denver Broncos, I couldn’t pass up. …It’s just a legendary team in general. Just being able to play in Broncos country is a dream come true.”
Smith said he has spoken to defensive coordinator Vance Joseph and was told the Broncos “really like my ability” on defense. And Smith, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds at his college pro day in 2018, said they also like his speed.
“I’m of course a special-teams ace and a kick returner and a punt returner,’’ Smith said. “Whether I get to play on defense or special teams, I am looking just to make us a better team, just help us win games. It could be doing anything from going to block a kick to returning a punt or kickoff for a touchdown or to get two picks in a game. It doesn’t matter, so I’m willing to do whatever it takes.”
And he won’t lack for confidence when looking to do those things.