Forgive Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith if he feels like one of the rookies he joined for the opening of training camp on Monday afternoon.
Smith, who spent his first seven seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, has never left home for training camp. The 49ers are one of the 20 NFL teams that train at their year-round facility.
“Camp is camp,” said Smith, who checked in at Missouri Western State University straight from playing in the American Century Golf Championship at Stateline, Nev. “But this is my first time going away for camp.”
Smith was eager to get on the field Tuesday, even though it will be with about 40 rookies, first-year players and selected veterans coming off injuries, most of whom will not crack the 53-man roster.
“I think it’s great,” Smith said, “because we’ve had six weeks off, and as far as the quarterbacks go, we can work out and we can throw to receivers, but you can’t really simulate seven-on-seven or 11 on 11, so it’s a few days of work to get back into things, so when the rest of the guys get here, we’re already hitting the ground running.”
In addition to the quarterbacks, rookies and first-year players, the Chiefs received permission from the league to include several veterans who missed the team’s offseason program because of injury, including tight end Tony Moeaki (knee), running back Shaun Draughn (sports hernia) and wide receivers Donnie Avery (ankle) and Junior Hemingway, who spent all but one week on the practice squad last year.
Smith, who led the 49ers to the NFC championship game in 2011 and started nine games for San Francisco’s Super Bowl team a year ago, has a short-term goal for his first season with the Chiefs.
“Win the first game,” he said. “I’m not looking beyond that. Set your sights on Jacksonville. That’s it.”
Though the Chiefs went 2-14 last season, Smith is aware expectations are high for the club after it hired Andy Reid as head coach and acquired Smith as the starting quarterback.
“Every team in the NFL has positive expectations right now,” Smith said. “Every single one. It’s no different anywhere. Everyone is coming into camp. It’s a fresh start, it’s a new beginning for everybody. It’s what teams are going to put in the work and take the steps necessary to get better and start winning games.”
Smith was encouraged by what he saw during the Chiefs’ offseason workouts and mini-camp and hopes it carries over into training camp and beyond.
“I thought it was an extremely hungry group,” Smith said. “I think the entire locker room is hungry. Expectations are high, and those are good things. The fun part now is we get the pads on and we’ll get to real football.”
Actually, because of the recent collective bargaining agreement, the Chiefs won’t don full pads until Sunday. But Reid promises a physical camp, even though the era of two-a-day practices is a thing of the past.
“You’ll see we’re going to tackle (runners) to the ground,” Reid said Monday. “It’s going to be a physical camp. It will be a challenge to them. They’ve got to be ready to go. We’ll challenge you. That’s what this game is about. It’s a tough game to get yourself ready for, and it’s a long season. This is building the foundation of that, and at the same time, you have to stay sharp mentally.
“Through all this heat and humidity, sore bodies, you have to crawl yourself out of bed, you’ve got to get yourself some nutrition, some food in you, and keep the liquids in, and you’ve got to perform.”
Reid said he’s moved the Chiefs practice sessions from mid-afternoon to 8:15 a.m. most days as a concession to the warm weather.
“You still get enough heat and you don’t put the guys at as much risk,” he said of the morning practices. “That’s what you like.”
Though the Chiefs are in the minority as far as teams leaving home for training camp, Reid likes getting away. His former team, the Philadelphia Eagles, is training at its year-round facility after spending the previous 17 summers at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. The Chiefs are in their fourth year of a five-year agreement to train at Missouri Western.
“I like the idea we’re all here together it creates a little bit of camaraderie ” Reid said. “There are not a lot of distractions up here. You’ve got your food right across the street (from the dormitory), you’ve got your training complex just up the street you’re all housed together meeting rooms everything is right here.”
And will be until the Chiefs break camp on Aug. 14.