Alex Smith is a very smart man, so yes, he knows the Chiefs’ deep passing game — or the lack thereof a year ago — will continue to be under the microscope for the foreseeable future.
After all, he only gets asked about it every time he steps in front of the media, which caused a reporter to ask if he’s tired of it yet.
“I get a little break,” Smith said with a laugh. “No worries, no worries.”
But with nine training camp practices in the books, Smith was asked if taking a few more chances downfield has actually been a focus thus far.
“It has — absolutely,” Smith said. “Here and there, I think Coach (Andy Reid) — if we get a potential look we’re looking for — is really pushing it. And even in this camp, Coach is a little bit like, ‘Now is the time, let’s push it, let’s try some of that stuff.’”
Smith rarely took chances downfield a year ago, attempting deep throws only 5.2 percent of the time last season. That ranked 37th and dead last among quarterbacks who attempted at least 25 percent of their team’s passes, according to Pro Football Focus.
Now some of that had to do with an offensive line that was leaky in pass protection and a receiving corps that lacked speed and separation ability.
But some of that also had to do with Smith, who has indeed made a handful of riskier throws than normal throughout camp — when the time has been right.
“Like today, we had a move the ball period, and I probably do get back more into ‘Let’s play this like we’d play it in a game,’” Smith said. “But in seven-on-seven and some of that stuff, yeah, I’m really trying to push some of these windows and see what we can do. That’s kind of what those drills are for.”
Smith has the weapons to do it. New receiver Jeremy Maclin parlayed his big-play ability into a five-year, $55 million contract with the Chiefs following a season in which he caught 85 passes for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns with the Eagles.
Smith, who has not had a receiver like that with the Chiefs, said he feels comfortable throwing deep to Maclin.
“I feel good, I feel really good,” Smith said. “Not just because of him, I think all the guys — it’s a point of emphasis for us all offseason, we worked hard on it, QBs and wideouts included. We worked really hard on it, and I do feel good with where we’re at. It’s just a matter of continuing that.”
Offensive coordinator Doug Pederson agreed, noting the importance of sprinkling in some explosive downfield plays.
“It doesn’t hurt,” Pederson said. “You would love to score in four plays and not always put eight-, nine-, or 10-play drives together. Again, if the ball’s not there, and Alex is great at this, if it’s not there down the field, he’s going to find the next available receiver and he’s going to manage that particular play well in that time.”
But considering Smith’s penchant for protecting the ball remains a significant part of his football DNA, Pederson was then asked how much the staff trusts Smith to let it loose downfield.
“A lot,” Pederson said. “That’s the thing about this offseason and going into camp. If you’re going to throw an interception, training camp is the time to throw it. Let’s test our skill and ability, let’s see what our guys can do. Let’s see what the quarterback can do, let’s see what our receivers can do.
“This is the time to test that, and we’ve got all of the confidence in the world, as a staff, when we call those plays that they’re completion plays and that Alex will do the right thing with the ball.”
The process of consistently executing the deep ball is not something that’s going to be cultivated in days or weeks. But with reps and diligence, it does get better — and Smith says the Chiefs are committed to getting there.
“It’s kind of one of those things where you always have to work at it, you always have to stay on it,” Smith said. “It’s hard, guys are tired, you don’t want to run them all the time after practice like that, but you have to keep doing it.”
▪ The Chiefs’ offensive linemen are showing signs of improvement in one-on-one pass-rush drills. | B4
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