One of the qualities the Chiefs like in new quarterback Alex Smith is his recent history with few turnovers. Smith threw just 10 interceptions in his last 25 games for the San Francisco 49ers, a stat that looks extremely pretty in Kansas City after Chiefs quarterbacks committed 27 turnovers last season.
Smith’s low turnover rate was due at least in part by his reluctance to throw the ball down the field. He was referred to by frustrated 49ers fans as Captain Checkdown for his habit of throwing shorter patterns to receivers for shorter gains.
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Smith is in the process of being reprogrammed by Andy Reid, his new coach. Reid doesn’t want to turn Smith into a turnover machine but wants him to be more aggressive, particularly during offseason practice.
“You want to get a feel for the offense now, particularly when you’re new at it (and) if there are close throws, challenge it, see what you can get away with,” Reid said. “If it ends up being an interception, OK, it’s an interception. You learn from it. These are smart guys so they learn from it and once they get into the season, they’re not experimenting with it on game day and they know what they can get away with and know what they can’t.
“It’s a new offense. I would tell any quarterback that comes in new that that’s what you need to do. I’ve told them all that. Go ahead and take your shots and see what you can get away with, within reason. But if it’s a close throw, there are going to be a few of those in the National Football League on game day so you need to know what you can get away with on each route.”
Smith and the other Chiefs quarterbacks were rewarded with several long completions in Wednesday’s practice. Smith had three such plays, including two to Jon Baldwin, while Tyler Bray and Ricky Stanzi had one apiece.
Wednesday’s barrage of big passing plays isn’t necessarily an indication the deep ball is back in the Chiefs’ offense. But since such plays have been scarce for the Chiefs in each of the past two seasons, they’re taking it as an encouraging sign.
“We’re just kind of continuing to press to see what we can do finding out what we’re capable of,” Smith said. “You’ve got to find that out at some point. This is what the practice field is for.”
Smith was the NFL’s highest-rated passer last season before he was injured, missed a start and then replaced by Colin Kaepernick as San Francisco’s starting quarterback. Smith was completing more than 70 percent of his passes, a high rate, and had just five interceptions.
Still, he had just 30 touchdown passes in his final 25 starts for the 49ers. While that’s a good number as a ratio with his 10 interceptions, it still represents a shortage of big plays.
Smith won’t turn into a mad bomber overnight, if he ever does.
“You want to stay aggressive,” Smith said. “But in the end I’m always trying to make the right read and throw where the defense is telling me to throw. You don’t come out here and predetermine anything, like ‘Oh, I’m going to chuck it deep on this play.’ I’m constantly trying to just trust my eyes and what I’m seeing out there, trust my reads and what I’ve prepared for and then come out here and throw good balls.”
For his part, Reid might be OK with that. But for now, when an interception costs the Chiefs nothing, he would prefer Smith be more of a gambler.
“Everybody is all on board (with Smith),” Reid said. “He’s a good football player. He’s showing that (along with) good leadership. I’m asking him to do a ton of things. He’s handling it. We’ve had an interception here or there but that’s all part of this thing. You’ve got to find out about the offense and you can’t do it with your hands in your pocket. You’ve got to go out and try things and experiment. That’s what he’s doing now.
“It’s just good stuff. He’s staying aggressive with the ball, and I appreciate that.”
The final offseason practice is today. The Chiefs won’t get together again as a group until training camp begins in July at Missouri Western State University.
Smith indicated he may try to throw to some Chiefs receivers during their downtime in an effort to stay sharp.
“We’re heads and shoulder above where we were a couple of months ago,” he said. “But that’s a never-ending thing. I don’t think it’s something like, ‘We’ve got a good feel for each other so we don’t need to work anymore.’ You’re constantly working at it. This is our job, this is our craft. Every single day, it’s coming out here and pushing to get better.”