The winner of the Chiefs’ backup quarterback job will have more responsibility than you might think.
Alex Smith knows that as the Chiefs’ starting quarterback, he is reliant upon others to be effective on Sundays. His linemen must block, his receivers must catch; his coaches must spot defensive weaknesses and call the right plays.
But Smith says there’s another, less noticeable person he relies upon at a position currently in a bit of flux, thanks to the offseason departure of Chase Daniel to Philadelphia.
Not only will the Chiefs count on the winner of their ongoing No. 2 quarterback competition to be the next man up in the event of an injury, but Smith will ask his backup to be a sounding board, of sorts, just like he did with Daniel.
“I think a lot of times people kind of make the assumption — especially with a veteran starter — that it’s a one-direction relationship where the starter’s the guy that has all this wisdom and goes out and plays, and he’s helping out the younger guys, and helping develop them,” Smith said. “And, certainly, that is half of it.
“But I do think it’s very, very important that that comes back, that your backup is watching film with you. Because as soon as I’m stepping off the field here, you know, I’m asking, ‘Hey, what did you guys see on this, what did you guys see on that?’ I’m constantly bouncing things off of those guys, and it can’t always be coaches (helping me).”
This is where Daniel, who was Smith’s No. 2 quarterback from 2013 to 2015, really shined. Over the last three years, Smith — both publicly and privately — repeatedly praised Daniel’s smarts and willingness to help him prepare each week, even though Daniel desperately wanted an opportunity to start. That’s the reason he left in free agency.
“For me, it’s nice to have the perspective of another guy, a guy that’s played quarterback and knows what it’s like,” Smith said. “It’s crucial sometimes to have that, and I really did have it with Chase the last few years. He’s a guy whose opinion I really trusted and think a lot of.”
For example, Smith said one of Daniel’s biggest strengths was his ability to identify potential blitzes, and make the proper protection calls up front.
“Man, he’d beat me in on Mondays and Tuesdays and he’d already have a jump on the pressures the opponent likes,” Smith said. “He’d say, ‘You see this leverage right here? I think we’ve got a tell.’ Or, ‘Hey, they only play this with corners off. This is your alert right here.’ Weekly little tips like that. He was really on it, man. And it was every single week.”
That leads to the obvious question: What makes Smith optimistic he’ll have that same comfort level with any of the young players vying for the job? Former undrafted free agent Tyler Bray is entering his fourth year, while 2014 fifth-rounder Aaron Murray is entering his third. Kevin Hogan, a fifth-round pick out of Stanford, is a rookie. None has logged a single regular-season snap, though to be fair, Daniel only attempted nine passes in his four years in New Orleans before he signed with the Chiefs as a free agent in 2013.
“It’s Bray’s fourth year and Murray’s third, and Chase was going into his fifth when we first got here,” Smith said. “I do feel like these guys have grown a lot, and they’ll tell you this: They grew a lot from even watching Chase, not just me, and being around us and seeing how that entire QB room operates.”
To that effect, Smith is optimistic that those three share Daniel’s unselfishness.
“I like these guys,” he said. “They really work hard, they all have different strengths, and they’re all good buddies — they handle it the right way. They don’t backdoor each other. You don’t ever see it in the locker room where those guys are trying to play favorites with wideouts. I’m telling you man, that stuff goes on all the time in a lot of QB competitions. Stuff gets weird in the QB room. But they’ll help each other, leave it out here and compete.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid agreed.
“That’s a really good room, period,” Reid said. “They’re all smart guys, they’re all close and they all study together. They all challenge each other, which is good — even the young guys. Alex challenges them, they challenge him back. It’s a healthy relationship they all have.”
That’s a positive sign. So is the fact that Reid thinks they all have the mental acuity to match Daniel’s football knowledge.
“I’ve said this about Alex, you’re not going to run out of gigabytes (in his memory),” Reid said. “I don’t think you’ll run out of that with the young quarterbacks either. They seem to handle things well. The one thing they don’t have are snaps, real snaps, under their belts. Somewhere you have to get them, and they’ll get them here in these camps and then training camp and the preseason games.”
That’s what this year’s offseason workouts have been about, with Bray and Murray getting most of the No. 2 reps behind Smith, and Hogan working in where he can after that. All three need to be more consistent — particularly with ball placement and their mental reads — but Reid said they’re doing a nice job overall.
“I’ve been very happy with them,” he said.
The pressure will be on all three to continue to make improvement, and make some plays when the preseason rolls around in August. Reid said at the outset of offseason practices that this is a competition that will play out over the next several months.
Nothing has happened over the last two weeks to change that. Each must get himself ready to play, period.
“They’re well aware of it — we talk about it,” co-offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said. “Even with Chase in previous years, you never know what could happen with Alex and then Chase, and you’re one or two plays away. They’re going into it with the mind-set that, hey, you know, I’m going to do everything I possibly can to earn that position, to earn that spot.”
No matter how the competition shakes out, Smith will be counting on all three teammates to help him prepare, and to maintain the unselfish spirit Daniel established in the quarterback room during his time in Kansas City.
“Once the season comes, we’re all trying to get the starter ready, whoever it is, and we’re all in this together,” Smith said. “And if you aren’t the guy pulling the trigger, you’re helping any way you can.”
The Star’s Sam McDowell contributed to this story.
TALE OF THE TAPE: A LOOK AT THE CHIEFS’ THREE BACKUP QBs
Bio: 6-6, 215, 24 years old, fourth year
Combined preseason stats: Completed 40 of 72 passes (55.5 percent) for 458 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions. Sacked 10 times
Coaches say: When the Chiefs signed Bray as an undrafted free agent in 2013, they did so with the belief they could harness his immense physical gifts — his NFL.com draft profile noted his “elite” arm strength and ability to consistently spin the ball — and teach him the mental side of the game. At Tennessee, Bray had little experience reciting the wordy play calls the Chiefs utilize, and his accuracy and footwork were uneven, according to his draft profile.
Three years later, Bray — who spent the last two seasons on injured reserve — has opened offseason workouts as the Chiefs’ No. 2 quarterback, but he will have to work hard and show improvement to keep the job.
“You forget he was the youngest guy in the draft (in 2013) — remember that,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “He was just a pup coming out, a bit immature. He’s grown up so much and works so hard, not only getting back from his injuries but also in the classroom, and you’re seeing it out here. He’s able to work the offense, and good things are happening for him. It’s important that he stays with it and he continues to work through all of this.”
Co-offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said the staff wants to see Bray transition the “mental reps” he’s taken the past couple of years to the field.
“So far, in OTAs, he’s done a great job with that,” Nagy said. “But it’s different when you’re sitting in a chair watching on TV, and then you come out here and get live reps. The biggest thing for him is just going to be the transition.”
Co-offensive coordinator Brad Childress said the transition has been a process, one that won’t ultimately be settled until training camp in July.
“He’s gotta knock a little rust off here, and I think he’s doing that in this camp,” Childress said. “He certainly has the physical tools that you’re looking for. You just kinda want to see him when bodies get around him. I don’t think you can really simulate that until you get to the full camp.”
Bio: 6-1, 207, 25, third year
Combined preseason stats: Completed 36 of 56 passes (64.2 percent) for 352 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. Sacked twice.
Coaches say: Murray, a fifth-round pick, was a four-year starter in Georgia’s pro-style offense, which was an obvious bonus for a Chiefs. His NFL.com draft profile also praised his quick release, good decision making and intangibles while noting his lack of size, average arm talent and deep-ball accuracy as weaknesses.
Murray opened offseason practices as the No. 3 quarterback because of Bray’s seniority but has worked with the second team on occasion, Reid said. Like Bray, however, he needs to be more consistent.
“Aaron was able to have the last couple of years getting some reps,” said Nagy, the Chiefs’ co-offensive coordinator alongside Childress. “Especially in these types of camps, he gets more physical reps. For him, it’s just going to be to take that next step, keep growing and make this game slower than it was last year.”
Childress noted that Murray also needs to make sure he’s got the verbiage of the Chiefs’ complicated play-calls down, which was a bit of a surprise given his past experience in a pro-style system.
“He’s had the advantage of sitting in the meeting rooms here for a couple of years, spitting our nomenclature out freely — it’s wordy,” Childress said. “He’s gotta be able to clearly enunciate those words and get everyone to understand. That’s huge.”
Bio: 6-3, 218, 23, rookie
2015 college stats: Completed 206 of 304 passes (67.8 percent) for 2,867 yards, 27 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Coaches say: Hogan, like Murray, makes good decisions, according to his NFL.com draft profile. What’s more, he’s a very good athlete (his 40-yard dash time of 4.78 seconds was among the best for quarterbacks in this year’s draft). Reid noted that he throws with great anticipation. He also comes from a pro-style system at Stanford and brings a lot of experience to the table as a four-year college starter.
“Quick study — there’s a lot of carryover from the system he ran at Stanford to what we’re doing here,” Childress said. “He’s agile-minded. He can hang with you all the way.”
Nagy also called Hogan a “very bright kid” who already has a jump-start on the Chiefs’ system.
“The first day we met and went through the playbook, we actually started crossing off the plays that he didn’t know because he’s so familiar with the verbiage that we have,” Nagy said. “Having a rookie that comes in here that just knows the verbiage is a huge benefit. But the game is still going to be faster just because of the level of play (in the NFL). And some of the play concepts are different.”
Hogan’s NFL.com draft profile also called his mechanics and footwork “a mess,” and noted his “below-average arm strength” and inconsistent deep-ball accuracy. Those will have to be areas of improvement going forward.
“For him, it’s a different game going from college to the NFL — the game is faster,” Nagy said. “Every play that he gets, just take advantage of it.”