Vahe Gregorian

Alex Smith and Chiefs take personality test with season on the line

If Alex Smith has an inner beast, it’s unlikely we’re going to see it during a Chiefs game. Coach Andy Reid says Smith’s best trait is level-headed consistency.
If Alex Smith has an inner beast, it’s unlikely we’re going to see it during a Chiefs game. Coach Andy Reid says Smith’s best trait is level-headed consistency. The Kansas City Star

One of the ways Chiefs’ coach Andy Reid manages the precarious tightrope that his team has to navigate to secure a playoff berth is to shrug off that distracting detail.

“I don’t think you focus on that,” he said.

Tedious as it might sound, this has to be business as usual … even if the Chiefs, 8-6, almost certainly have to win their last two games to secure a postseason spot (they might make it with a split) and could be snuffed out if they lose Sunday at Pittsburgh, 9-5.

So don’t look down, pay no attention to the talking heads behind the curtain trying to foretell the future and just do what you do … only more so.

But as Reid on Wednesday recited the usual points of focus for his team — know the opponent, respect the opponent, study the schemes delivered by the coaches — he added a little flourish.

“Then you let your personality show within that,” he said.

This isn’t the first time Reid has blurted out that idea, but it particularly seems to be a notion he draws on in tough or pivotal times.

It surfaced, for instance, after the Chiefs lost their first two games before rallying to win seven of the next eight.

And several players referred to just that on Sunday after the Chiefs ended a three-game losing streak with a 31-13 clobbering of Oakland.

Embracing the idea may or may not have much to do with what the Chiefs have done or where they’re headed.

But it does illuminate and amplify some of Reid’s philosophical approach, particularly when it comes to what he wants — and gets — out of his quarterback position.

As the typically buttoned-down Reid started to explain what it means to let personality show, by way of demonstration he first jokingly rattled a stand in front of him.

Then he suggested that watching the quarterback is the best way to understand his point.

After all, it’s the most visible, influential and, even within its constraints, elastic position in the game.

“Brett Favre, Steve Young, Joe Montana, Donovan McNabb, and you go on, and now Alex (Smith),” he said. “They’ve all had the same offense, but what they do is add their little flair to it.

“Each player does that at every position and that’s their personality. You give them certain rules and you allow them to add their flair, their personality, to that play or that position.”

What that means might vary with the ear of the listener.

To cornerback Sean Smith, it means “be yourself, play your game. Don’t try to do anything you can’t do. Don’t try and play outside yourself and do anybody else’s job. Just go out there and be you and have fun.”

To a special teams “guru,” as Frank Zombo playfully describes himself, it means, well … “I don’t really know how to answer that. Sorry.”

To tight end Travis Kelce, whose ample on-field personality tends to include volatility, it’s a good message at a time of the season when it’s easy to get tight.

“Don’t be uptight, don’t be too loose, just be yourself …,” said Kelce, who smiled and acknowledged it’s a balancing act for him. “It’s one of those things where I kind of have to control the animal inside of me.”

Which brings us to Alex Smith, whose forte essentially is the opposite of Kelce.

“You don’t see him budge,” Kelce said. “It’s the same thing, same guy, every single day, every single play.”

At 31, Smith’s game is built on discipline and, in many ways, restraint.

So much so that some question his ability to throw downfield.

The criticism isn’t unwarranted, but it hinges as much or more on inconsistent line play and receivers struggling to get separation as it does Smith’s arm strength and desire to make big plays.

Against Oakland last week, for example, Smith threw for 297 yards, including completions (with some catch-and-run) of 70, 48 and 37 yards.

All within the scheme of things.

Which is to say … all within what Reid considers Smith’s flair.

“Consistency,” Reid said. “He’s got a whole lot of redeeming qualities, but the end result is he is very consistent and people trust him.”

That might seem like damning Smith with faint, mundane praise, along the lines of calling him a “game manager.”

But Reid means this as a pure compliment, because Smith’s temperament and skill set complement his ability to run Reid’s offense the way Reid wants it run.

This has made Smith a bit of a divisive figure, perceived for being risk-averse at the expense of taking worthy gambles.

And this bothers Smith … not at all.

He is, as he put it, comfortable in his own skin, something this topic led to him explaining some.

If Kelce has to work to contain the beast within, Smith was asked, does Smith have to strive to let his go?

“I don’t know about letting go; it’s just going out there and playing,” he said, smiling. “Yeah, when the opportunities present themselves, you’re striking, you’re taking advantage.

“You’re going out there to execute the offense, though. That’s my role every week: Go out there and execute the offense and distribute the football.

“And the goal is to go out there and be correct a lot. Go out there and make the good decisions and throw accurate footballs.

“And when you need to take those shots and you take them and you hit them.”

When you need to. Or when it’s there.

But not gratuitously.

Or because as a quarterback he has to prove something by zinging the ball all over the field.

Listen, I think I’ve played long enough that I just don’t think like that,” he said. “I want to win.”

The overriding, consistent mentality is always simply this:

“Depending on the look and the play call,” Smith said, “you’re operating the play.”

That’s not a macho or glamorous way to put it, of course, but it’s true to Smith’s personality.

“You want to be that stable force … every single play in the huddle, every single week through all the games,” he said, adding that being consistent means “you are who you are and people can kind of lean on you.”

Especially with the season at stake.

“You wanted the stages to get bigger and bigger and be more meaningful,” Smith said, “and here we are.”

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to vgregorian@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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