Andy Reid delivered a not-so-subtle message Friday with the first play at Chiefs training camp. He had quarterback Alex Smith heave a pass deep down the middle that was hauled in for a touchdown by wide receiver Dexter McCluster.
The play served notice that after two seasons with a dormant passing attack, the Chiefs intend to revive it in a big way.
“I wasn’t ready for that,” Smith said. “I came up and I got a good look for it. Crowd pleaser.”
Much more needs to happen before the passing game can be called successful. But the intent is obviously there. Smith completed another deep pass to McCluster a few plays later.
As much as Reid enjoyed the big plays, he liked the consistency of the passing game. Smith, who completed 70 percent of his passes for the 49ers last season, went several plays into practice before throwing his first incompletion.
“There weren’t a lot of balls on the ground, and it looked like the defense had people covered,” Reid said. “They were in position.”
The trade for Smith was the biggest of the offseason moves aimed at revitalizing a sluggish offense. Smith, the first pick in the 2005 draft and San Francisco’s long-time starter, is used to such pressure.
“I’m much better equipped to handle it now,” Smith said. “When you’re a young guy and coming in and playing early, I dwelled on (negative things) too much. I let it affect my play too much. I tried to please everybody.
“I’m going to play my game. I’m going to try to work as hard as I can to get as good as I can and try to reach my potential and win a bunch of games. That’s the goal. I’m not worried about a bunch of other things.”
Smith received another peek at the expectations waiting for him at the end of practice, when a fan called to him asking Smith to be the Chiefs’ savior.
“That’s a strong word,” Smith said. “That’s a great example. When I was younger, I would have taken that literally. I tried to make every single throw and I tried to prove to everybody on every single play that, yeah, I could do this.”
That McCluster was on the receiving end of Smith’s long passes was another bonus for the Chiefs. They practiced without their most accomplished receiver, Dwayne Bowe, who is on the non-football injury list with a viral condition.
Bowe may return to practice as soon as Saturday. But no matter when he plays, the Chiefs are still in search of a consistent threat to go along with him. The diminutive McCluster has long tantalized the Chiefs with his big-play ability, but he has delivered precious few such plays since arriving as a rookie in 2010.
He bounced from receiver to running back and again to receiver, never seeming to find a comfortable spot. While it’s far too early to call him a changed player in Reid’s offense, it’s a start.
“It’s always good to start a first practice with a big one,” McCluster said. “I’m happy I held on to the ball.”
Reid’s arrival could rescue McCluster’s career, which stalled last season under coach Romeo Crennel. Reid, then coaching the Philadelphia Eagles, was intrigued by McCluster when he was available in the 2010 draft.
The Chiefs got to him first, but Reid began making plans for McCluster shortly after arriving in Kansas City in January.
“He gives you a little flexibility,” Reid said. “You can move him around a Iittle. We’ll use him here and there.”
During offseason practice and again on Friday, McCluster lined up in a variety of spots.
“I don’t know where he couldn’t line up, to be honest, as far as skill positions go,” Smith said. “He’s got that many tools in the belt.”
Another offensive player the Chiefs are counting on is rookie running back Knile Davis. The Chiefs hope he can be turned into a kickoff return specialist, even though he never returned a kick during a game in college at Arkansas.
That process got off to a rough start Friday when Davis, who was a frequent fumbler in college, dropped a kickoff.
“We’ll get that fixed,” Reid said.