For all intents and purposes, the Chiefs were determined to head into their league-mandated one-month break on a high note.
And on Thursday — the final day of their mandatory minicamp — they did just that.
The passing game, as it has been throughout organized team activities, was the focus. Alex Smith was in for three plays, followed by Chase Daniel for two and Aaron Murray for one.
Together, the trio racked up completion after completion, with only a few misses sprinkled in.
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There was Smith, lofting a gorgeous jump-ball fade to Jeremy Maclin in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown over cornerback Marcus Peters.
There was Smith again, firing a missile to Maclin between multiple defenders in the end zone for another touchdown.
There was rookie receiver Chris Conley, again showing off his athleticism as he exploded out of his break on a deep slant and hauled in a touchdown.
This is what the offense is supposed to look like during OTAs, and Smith is encouraged by the improved efficiency of the Chiefs’ passing game, especially compared to when coach Andy Reid first took over before the 2013 season.
“Well certainly, two years ago, it would be even tough to compare those because that’s year one,” Smith said. “But yeah, even from last year I think a huge step, a significant step.”
Smith pointed to the postpractice stats the quarterbacks receive from the team as proof.
“We get our stats every single day that kind of come back to us, especially as quarterbacks,” Smith said. “This has been our best offseason, for sure, as far as any numbers in the passing game you’re looking at: completion percentage, touchdowns, all that stuff.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid agreed, noting that his quarterbacks’ grades are right where they need to be this time of year.
“They’re about right on the spot,” Reid said. “I thought they did a decent job … they don’t want to grade out too high, because then your defense isn’t very good. I look at the balance there, even though I work with the offense. I have to see how that thing balances out when you’re going ones versus ones, twos versus twos, threes versus three, you hope it’s right in the middle. I think it’s been well done.”
Still, that’s not to say the growth of the Chiefs’ passing game this spring has been instant coffee. The defense certainly shined at times throughout OTAs, as the early part of camp was plagued by occasional incompletions, interceptions and what appeared to be a lack of rhythm to the passing game.
“We know we’re going against a good secondary,” Reid said. “One nice thing with these camps is you get to do ones versus ones more than maybe you do during training camp. It gives you an opportunity to get your best against best and then challenge each other.
“I think it’s gone back and forth just depending on the day and just the practice itself. You can split it in the middle, the defense will make plays, the offense will make plays. I think the competition has been phenomenal; that’s the way you improve on both sides of the ball.”
Smith, in particular, spent the early part of camp getting on the same page with a handful of new weapons, like Maclin and Conley. That, plus rust, could be the reason for their early difficulties, though Maclin correctly noted that you have to be careful about evaluating OTA performances solely on completions.
“Some days we’re working on certain things where maybe the defense is working on a particular coverage to cover that or maybe the defense is working on things to disrupt that, and there are some days where maybe we’re working on things where we’re taking advantage of what our defense is doing,” Maclin said. “I don’t think you can really read too much into exactly completion percentage or things like that.”
Yet, by the end of camp, it was clear that Smith and Maclin, in particular, had certainly developed some budding chemistry.
“I feel really good about where things are right now, where they’re going, how they have progressed,” Smith said of Maclin. “I think with all of the restrictions and stuff that are in place now in the offseason, I don’t see how we could have done any more. I really feel like we’ve gotten great work as a whole, but he and I especially have gotten a lot of reps together, a lot of good looks. I really feel like we have a good foundation before we put the pads on and head into camp.”
Smith has come away impressed with Maclin’s football IQ and knowledge of Reid’s playbook, which makes sense since he played for Reid in Philly from 2009 to 2012.
“He knows it, hasn’t skipped a beat as far as stepping in. And really, we’ve been able to do a lot more this offseason than you normally would with a new guy because of that. It’s really kind of a credit to him for getting in mentally and being ready.”
Smith said the two often huddle up after each series and discuss what they each saw on certain plays.
“It’s really been interesting for me to kind of hear his perspective on things because he sees things really, really well and how he views things,” Smith said. “And all of a sudden you go back and watch the film and you confirm it. It’s been fun to come back the next day and right it.”
In a general sense, Smith also added that when it comes to the playbook, the Chiefs have also been working on more stuff than ever before, which is another positive sign.
“This is hands down the most football that we’ve had in the OTAs as far as install football and hands down the most if you were going to put a percentage on the playbook,” Smith said. “And I think the crazy thing with coach Reid is, there is no endgame. It’s never ending because he is always thinking of new stuff. But we’ve got a ton of football in.”
Reid agreed, noting that the Chiefs are right about where they need to be when it comes to installing new plays.
“The natural progression is you do that, you add a little bit more,” Reid said. “You evaluate what you did. You’re coming off a season where you’re taking your scheme evaluation, then you make some tweaks and you add a little bit here, a little bit there, you might take away a few plays you weren’t real happy with. I think we’re kind of on course of where you (should) be in the third year.”
Reid indicated that when it comes to the offense, Smith is on track, as well.
“I think he is obviously in full command of it,” Reid said. “He understands it and gets it; he has a lot of trust in the guys around him, which is a good thing — with some of the guys he’s played with.”
The Chiefs have to hope all this carries over to training camp, which kicks off Aug. 1 in St. Joseph, but Smith’s trust in his weapons still makes sense.
Others have shined as well, and that has contributed to Smith’s feeling of optimism heading into their monthlong break.
“It’s fun, especially this spring, it’s been a ton of fun,” Smith said. “It’s like, who is going to have the big day? You don’t know and I think that’s even the fun part for us. You’re going out and you don’t know who it’s going to be because everybody has had their turn. And that’s been a lot of fun for us to kind of go back and cut it loose. There are good match ups all over the place.”