Matt Nagy is a former quarterback, so he understands how difficult life can be on the NFL level for a third-string quarterback with a competitive personality like the Chiefs’ Aaron Murray.
Starting quarterback Alex Smith gets most of the first-team reps in practice. Backup Chase Daniel gets most of the scout-team reps, a crucial role for preparing the defense.
Thanks to the new CBA, which puts restrictions on how much time players can spend on the field and at the facility, that leaves precious few opportunities for Murray, a four-year starter at Georgia, to get in some quality reps.
That’s why Nagy, the Arena League quarterback turned Chiefs’ quarterbacks coach, will sometimes pull Murray aside after practice and get in a little extra work.
“We’ll grab some of the receivers or tight ends and give them some routes so it’s not just me standing in there,” Nagy said. “If those guys are busy, then I’ll go in there and give him some looks, just like we do in the pregame. It’s not the same (as playing), but you still get the physical reps and physical throws.”
Nagy concedes that getting Murray some scout-team work would be ideal. But throughout the season’s first five weeks, the Chiefs have had to prepare for elite quarterbacks such as Denver’s Peyton Manning, New England’s Tom Brady and San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick, and Daniel — a sixth-year pro — has taken pride in mimicking them to give the defense the best look possible.
“We try to get (Aaron) as many as we can, but that’s a good thing Chase doesn’t want to give up any reps,” Nagy said. You can appreciate that. … He takes it serious and he does it for the team.”
That’s why Nagy describes Murray’s life right now as 90 percent mental, which may be something he’ll need to get accustomed to for a while. The Chiefs obviously like Murray, their fifth-round in this year’s draft, but Smith just signed an extension that will likely keep him in Kansas City through the 2016 season, at the very least.
That essentially ensures Murray will get to watch and learn from Smith for at least a few more seasons as he grasps Chiefs coach Andy Reid’s complicated West Coast offense.
“Nine, ten years in the league, he’s seen a lot of things, a lot of defenses,” Murray said. “He understands what works and what doesn’t and how to play in big-time games. He’s been awesome to watch and learn from.”
Nagy said Murray and Tyler Bray, another young quarterback the Chiefs are developing, are benefiting greatly from watching the way professionals such as Smith and Daniel approach their work.
“Those guys, Alex and Chase, they’re the first ones in, last ones out,” Nagy said. “It’s not easy getting up at 5:30 in the morning and being in there at a quarter to 6 watching film. When it’s Wednesday and Thursday morning and they’re there at 5:30, 6 o’clock, that’s dedication, that’s taking their job seriously.
“What that does is teach a guy like Aaron that there’s no easy way. That’s something Chase shows as a backup quarterback, when he knows there’s a possibility that he may not play a snap the whole game but he’s preparing like he will. For Aaron to see that, it’s huge.”
Murray said Smith and Daniel are willing to help him, which isn’t necessarily a given on this level.
“(Smith’s) been great,” Murray said. “Anything with the playbook, with defenses, anytime I have a question, he and Chase are always there to answer and help out.”
This was basically the same education the big-armed Bray received last season, when the Chiefs signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee. Coaches say Bray has made large strides from last year to this year.
“He’s really grown, but for him, being able to understand how you fix protections in this offense (is important),” Nagy said of Bray. “He never had to do that at Tennessee, where it was a lot of no-huddle and the ball was (coming) out.
“So now you’ve got to be able to make a ‘Mike’ ID and fix protection. If there’s a blitz coming from one side and we have protection going to the other side, how are you going to fix that protection and see that? So far, in camp, when we had him, he really improved with that.”
It could make for another interesting training camp competition between the three backups next year, though Nagy didn’t want to look that far ahead. For now, he said, all Murray needs to do to focus on improving daily, just like Bray — who is currently on injured reserve because of knee and ankle injuries — did in the same position last season.
“Tyler, the thing is mentally, he’s really grown leaps and bounds from where he was before. That’s a good thing, because that was the big question, just how was he going to grow.
“Aaron needs to do the same thing, because this is a whole new playbook. It’s learning a whole new language. And when you gotta process that, take that onto the field, transform it into completions. That’s where he needs to be stay sharp because he’s not getting many reps.”
So far, offensive coordinator Doug Pederson, who spent the majority of his 10-year NFL career as a backup quarterback, says Murray is doing just fine in that department.
“Sometimes, it’s a lonely spot,” Pederson said. “I’ve been in his shoes before as a third-string quarterback where you get more mental reps than physical reps, but he’s a sharp guy and his maturity level is showing. He just continue it for the rest of the season and get to the offseason, he and Tyler Bray both.”