From Rookie to Mentor: Lelie's One-Year Growth Spurt
June 9, 2003
By Andrew Mason
Typically, it's rookies and other newcomers who draw the most notice from observers at offseason camps. Since focus naturally turns to what has changed from the past, the eyes of most have been on free-agent pickups like Jake Plummer, Daryl Gardener and Lee Flowers, and rookies such as George Foster and head-turning wideout Adrian Madise.
That hasn't hurt Ashley Lelie. Just because he's no longer the new kid in town doesn't mean he hasn't spawned oohs and aahs from observers at practice as he's repeatedly made one solid catch after another. With the opportunity to line up alongside Rod Smith on the first team due to Ed McCaffrey's recovery from groin surgery, Lelie has only enhanced his growing stature in the Broncos' passing game.
His comfort level in the Broncos' system is evident. Gone are the occasional bouts of tentativeness that tend to plague any rookie; in their place are smooth, almost effortless routes and unspoken, but evident confidence.
"Anytime a wide receiver or running back's in the system going into the second year, it's always a big plus," Head Coach Mike Shanahan said. "He's a lot more comfortable with the offensive system, he's a lot more comfortable with defenses, and he can kind of get an idea of how physical the NFL is in comparison with college."
With the playbook absorbed, and a full offseason of strength and conditioning workouts on his docket, Lelie has the knowledge and strength of a seasoned veteran.
"I only have to learn the little things now, and I can go on to the next level," he said.
But as well as he's done when the football is in play, during the offseason to date, he's already moved onto the next level when he steps away from the action, turning into a mentor. Along with veteran Rod Smith, he has spent the past three camps focused on three primary goals -- gaining timing with Plummer, refining his routes and providing counsel to the newest receivers.
Chief among those in whom Lelie has taken an interest is Madise, the fifth-round selection who began drawing raves from observers within a half-hour of taking the field for the Broncos' first mini-camp. Lelie gave Madise the same advice that the Hawaii product has heard before -- imploring him to be persistent, and to remember on a bad day that better ones will come -- ones such as the type Lelie currently enjoys.
"Just to stick through it, because there's going to be ups and downs," Lelie said. "Some days he'll come out and have a great practice, others he might come out and make a lot of mistakes. Mentally, he has to stick with it."
Yet Lelie doesn't feel threatened by Madise, or anyone else among the receivers. Truth be told, it's his goal for the group to be comprised of equally excellent talents.
"We have a great group of receivers," he said. "Hopefully we all step up like that during the season, and make the same plays and we'll all be interchangeable."
Interchangeable in result, perhaps. But there's still no mistaking Lelie for anyone else, with his smooth, precise routes, angular frame, pinpoint body control and rapid mental growth -- attributes which should serve him well as the season approaches.