Chiefs can improve quickly, analysts say, but a lot rides on QB Alex Smith

The 2012 season ended for the Chiefs with a hideous 38-3 loss in Denver, a 2-14 record and, for their fans, some serious despair.

It was obvious early in the year when things fell apart the Chiefs would have to start almost from scratch. They would need a new general manager, head coach and quarterback, among other things, and the turnaround time for the Chiefs to be competitive appeared as if it could be measured in years, not months.

That still may be true. Free-agency hasn’t started, and the draft is almost two months away, so things have time to unravel.

But the hiring of Andy Reid as head coach, John Dorsey as general manager and, in their latest move, the acquisition of Alex Smith at quarterback made the Chiefs look a little different, at least to some people.

“I think they’ll be a player again next season,’’ said former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer, now an ESPN analyst. “They’ll be competitive. They have enough good players.

“Things snowballed on them last year. The players they have and the quarterback and the plan that Andy will implement will give them a real chance to compete next year.’’

It may be premature to make that assessment. The Chiefs have plenty of issues hanging over them ranging from the expiring contracts of wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and Branden Albert to filling some holes on defense to finding an impact player with the first pick in the draft in a year where no one available stands out.

If these issues and others aren’t adequately resolved, the Chiefs could be looking at another high draft pick in 2014.

Much also depends on Smith. It’s reasonable that last season would have gone more smoothly for the Chiefs had Smith been their quarterback.

Their 2012 quarterbacks, Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn, were the two lowest-rated passers in the league and between interceptions and fumbles committed 27 turnovers.

Smith was the NFL’s highest-rated passer for San Francisco in November, when a concussion knocked him from the lineup. Even when he was healthy, Smith never got his job back.

But that doesn’t change the fact Smith has thrown just 10 interceptions in his last 25 games.

“You know one thing about the kid: He’s going to be judicious with the ball,’’ said former Chiefs head coach Herm Edwards, also an NFL analyst for ESPN. “He’s not going to turn it over. That alone gives you the ability to win games.’’

“They turned the ball over 37 times last year. It’s very difficult to win that way. The defense can only hold up for so long. They broke down because they were on the field so much.’’

Having a quarterback who hangs on to the ball might get a team to ordinary, but somebody will eventually need to make a play if the Chiefs are going to score more than last season, when they were last in the league in points.

Having Jamaal Charles at running back is a good start. Retaining Bowe would seem to be a smart move. But more moves must be made.

“I think their talent level is better than 2-14,’’ said former Chiefs quarterback Rich Gannon. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they could win eight or nine games. Consider what’s going on in the division. San Diego is starting over with a new coach and a new general manager. The Raiders are still in a rebuilding mode.

“They’ve got the running back in Jamaal Charles. They’ve got a chance to be pretty good at wide receiver. The big key is Jonathan Baldwin. They might have a new left tackle, which is going to be a good deal. They’ve got three or four really solid players on defense. They’ve got to get better on the defensive line and add another corner.

“How quickly they can win depends on a lot of factors, one of them being how well Alex Smith plays. But I think he’s the right guy for the job, somebody who’s been through some train wrecks and handled adversity before. He’s not going to panic when things start to go south.’’

That seems a lot to pin to a guy whose career passer rating is a subpar 79.1 (Cassel’s is 80.4, as a comparison), a guy who was benched last season. But Smith was once the overall number one pick in the draft, so he has the ability.

“It gives that football team a chance to compete right now,’’ Edwards said. “They’ve got some players. It’s not like the cupboard is bare. It’s not like Andy is going there to rebuild. We did that already. That’s why I’m working for these guys. They’ve been down that road already.

“That’s a team built to win right now.’’

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