During his first four years with the Chiefs, quarterback Alex Smith was the unequivocal starter. That doesn’t change as he begins his fifth season, coach Andy Reid emphasized Monday.
“It’s Alex’s job,” Reid said. “That’s what it is. There’s no gray area with that.”
But the circumstances are different.
Previous backup quarterbacks in the Reid era, guys such as Chase Daniel and Nick Foles, weren’t being groomed as Smith’s successor. Patrick Mahomes is, and that changes the dynamic of the position.
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Mahomes, who was shifted from third-team QB to the second team after the Chiefs’ first preseason game, is on an upward track. There is more of a push at the position, and assistant head coach Brad Childress finds nothing wrong with that.
“Alex Smith has done a great job,” Childress said during training camp last week in St. Joseph. “If you look through the past four years, it’s been fairly comfortable for him. It’s not bad getting uncomfortable. You draft a guy, you look for somebody who can push, and I think it helps everybody up their game.
“Competition only makes you better. If we can create it, we’re trying to. Healthy competition is a good thing, and I think we have great, healthy competition in that quarterback room.”
Reid thinks that’s one reason why Smith raised his game during training camp.
“There’s more competition than before by the nature of it, and as a result I think he’s come out with his best camp,” Reid said.
Smith’s performance in the Chiefs’ first two preseason games is another indication. He played one series in the opener against the 49ers and engineered a touchdown drive. His two possessions last weekend at Cincinnati produced a field goal and touchdown pass. In those two games, Smith was 12 for 15 with a passer rating of 125.3.
Mahomes has generated his own buzz with his performance — he’s 17 of 23 for 137 yards through two games, with three touchdowns and no interceptions — especially after leading the first-team offense to a touchdown at Cincinnati.
Smith has been complimentary of Mahomes, suggesting that the Texas Tech rookie was more advanced in certain areas than he was a rookie.
Smith, 33, is beginning his 13th NFL season and coming off a year in which he set a career best for yards (3,502) and his 91.2 passer rating was above his career mark. He’s under contract through 2018.
Smith has always been Reid’s quarterback in Kansas City. But plans had to be made for the future.
“Unfortunately, age comes into this thing,” Reid said. “You get old in this business. At one time (Smith) was the young up-and-comer. That doesn’t mean you’re going to be replaced tomorrow.
“But this is what’s real. You’re not as young as you used to be, so you bring a guy in, and this thing keeps going. It’s life.
“He treats him (Mahomes) well, and we’re not asking him to do this. That’s not his job. We’re asking him to go win games and be the best he can be. But they talk. There’s an open communication there that’s healthy.”
Smith said he hasn’t approached this season differently than previous ones in Kansas City or San Francisco, where he spent his first eight years.
“It’s no different,” Smith said “For me, it’s just kind of being myself. I’m going out there and playing and trying to take advantage of my reps and myself for the season as best I can.”
But Smith isn’t going to withhold help from Mahomes, even if he is the heir apparent.
“Certainly, I’ve been through a lot,” Smith said. “So if there’s something I can help with or see, I am not going to hesitate to vocalize.”
As a Texas Tech sophomore, Mahomes beat out the returning starter for the job. When the Chiefs made him the No. 10 overall draft selection this year, Mahomes and his camp were thrilled not just because he was going to a winning team, but because he’d be playing for a head coach with a reputation for developing quarterbacks, and the fact that he’d get to work alongside Smith.
Unlike the other first-round quarterbacks selected — Mitchell Trubisky of the Bears, and the Texans’ Deshaun Watson — Mahomes had the advantage of working with and observing a seasoned veteran who has won playoff games and been selected to Pro Bowl teams.
What has Mahomes learned from Smith?
“Just how efficient he is,” Mahomes said. “It seems like he always has a plan. ‘If they play this defense, I’m going to go here. If they play that defense I’m going there …’ and how he can get himself out of certain situations. It’s something you learn from him every time you watch it.
“Really, it’s a great relationship. Just having him in front of me, you can’t even explain how much he teaches me on the sidelines. He’s always helping me out. And at the same time, we’re pushing each other to be better every single day.”