As training camp nears for the Chiefs, one statistic from last season won’t be forgotten: zero touchdowns for the receiving corps in 16 games.
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith hasn’t dwelled on that number as his summer break winds down while participating in the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament near Lake Tahoe.
Entering his 11th NFL season, Smith confidently talks about the set of receivers the franchise has put together following back-to-back AFC West runner-up finishes.
“We have a lot of guys who have been here in place for a chunk of time and who are bringing the other guys up to speed a little faster,” said Smith, who was tied for 31st place after the tournament’s first round. “We’re just able to do more. We’re not taking steps backward that you do sometimes with a lot of turnover. For us, we’ve been able to start off where we left off last season.”
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Adding free-agent Jeremy Maclin to replace Dwayne Bowe, who wasn’t re-signed and moved on to Cleveland, gives Smith and the offense a wide receiver who has consistently found the end zone during his six-year career.
“When I sat down and looked at the statistics of the Kansas City Chiefs and you say, ‘No wide receiver through 16 games caught a touchdown pass,’ I think the first thing you have to think about is: What is up with the system?” said former Washington quarterback Joe Theismann. “Secondly, what’s up with the personnel? I think with Dwayne Bowe, it’s good for him to move on to Cleveland. I think it’s good he’s out of Kansas City and fresh, new blood has come in.”
Maclin caught 85 passes for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns last year with Philadelphia. During his five seasons on the field, Maclin has performed consistently, grabbing 343 passes for 4,771 yards and 36 TDs.
Now, Smith has a big threat at receiver to complement running back Jamaal Charles and tight end Travis Kelce.
“Alex has never had a team that’s been loaded, so now you give him Maclin and you give him some people around him that can turn something from nothing, now he is going to be a playmaker because he’s going to do his job and other guys are going to finish it for him,” said NFL analyst Trent Dilfer, who quarterbacked Baltimore to a Super Bowl win in the 2000 season.
Smith took an immediate liking to Maclin during offseason workouts.
“I’ve been really impressed with him in a lot of ways, working with him this spring,” Smith said. “One is just what a technician Jeremy is and how smart he is. Then, how competitive he is with the football.”
Second-year players Albert Wilson and Frankie Hammond are fast-developing receivers who excite Smith, as well as 2015 third-round draft choice Chris Conley of Georgia.
“On the other side, we have a bunch of young guys that are waiting to explode, so to speak,” Smith said. “They should obviously get some opportunities with Jeremy on the other side.
“I was really impressed with Chris. I thought he had a great spring for a rookie. In only eight weeks with us, he made a lot of strides and will contribute for us. Albert Wilson played really well for us at the end of last season. I’m excited for his opportunity, and I think he’s going to do some big things.
Frankie Hammond is another young guy who can kind of do everything, is dependable and works hard. And Junior Hemingway and Jason Avant can move inside and play the slot for us and are very, very good at what they do.”
Smith called the Chiefs’ offseason the most productive since he was traded from the San Francisco 49ers in 2013.
“It’s been the most productive spring in being able to install the offense and being able to go out and execute at a high level because we’ve been going through this for a long time now and Coach continues to refine things for us and us taking out on the field and refining it as well,” Smith said.
With Andy Reid and his coaching staff preparing for their third season in Kansas City, Smith believes that the coaches are now better equipped to exploit defenses.
“All of a sudden we have guys who have been doing this for three years, so obviously they are going to know things better,” Smith said. “Andy does such a great job of knowing guys’ strengths and emphasizing those. They really understand what we do well and are adapting to us.”
Despite the receivers’ scoreless season, Smith found other means of directing the Chiefs into the end zone. Last year, nine of his 18 TD passes went to tight ends and the other nine went to running backs, including five to Charles.
“I certainly was hoping for them to have some touchdowns, and obviously had to deal with a lot of that last year, but when you are out there playing and trying to win games, you are really not worried about who is scoring,” Smith said. “You are just worried about scoring as an offense. I don’t care if I’m throwing them or handing them off.
“It was one of those weird things where those guys ended up getting down there and had a lot of success in the red zone and in some ways kind of taking it away from the receivers.”
Dilfer and Theismann believe better days are ahead of the Chiefs.
“I know last year was a great year for them to understand the system and maximize it, and now they are going to have some guys who can play beyond the X’s and O’s,” Dilfer said.
Theismann added, “Last year, what happened to Alex, when they started having defensive guys getting hurt, I think he felt he had to take some more responsibility. It’s very hard to say, ‘Just do your job,’ when you feel like the success or failure falls on your shoulders. I think Alex is the kind of quarterback who is capable of leading a team to a championship. He manages a game well, he’s smart, knows what he wants to do with the football and he’s learned how to protect himself.”