ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — All eyes would have been on Alex Smith anyway during his debut as the Chiefs’ starting quarterback. Then his offensive coordinator, Doug Pederson, recently called Smith the NFL’s best quarterback, increasing the pressure on Smith a few notches.
High expectations are nothing new for Smith, the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft by the 49ers eight years ago. So at hearing Pederson’s words, Smith had little reaction.
“There’s something to prove every week,’’ he said. “That’s what I’m striving for. In the end, it’s the guy holding up that (Super Bowl) trophy (who is the best), in my opinion as far as quarterback goes. We can talk about how many yards guys throw for and this and that. But if you’re not leading your team to victory … that’s what we’re all striving for, to hold that (trophy).’’
Smith can’t take a meaningful step toward winning the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the Chiefs merely by playing well in Friday night’s preseason opener against the Saints in New Orleans. But Smith and the Chiefs can create some offensive momentum, something that’s been elusive for them with different quarterbacks the past two seasons.
Smith and the starting offense will play the first quarter against the Saints. Chase Daniel will replace Smith in the second quarter and be followed by Tyler Bray in the third and Ricky Stanzi to finish the game.
“It’s important,’’ Smith said. “We want to play well and we want to get off to a good start. But is this the end-all? No. It’s the first preseason game.
“The big thing for us is on offense. Let’s move the ball, let’s go down and get some points. That’s the goal. On an individual level, we just need to do our jobs. For me, that’s making good decisions and hitting the targets when they’re there.’’
Smith has done a nice job of that during training camp. He completed more than 70 percent of his passes last season for the 49ers before being benched in favor of Colin Kaepernick late in the year.
There’s much more that goes into being the NFL’s best quarterback. One measure is postseason success and Smith has quarterbacked just one playoff victory.
But Pederson isn’t backing off his claim regarding Smith.
“There are some great quarterbacks in the National Football League,’’ said Pederson, in his first season with the Chiefs after being the quarterbacks coach for the Philadelphia Eagles. “Don’t get me wrong. We just felt like Alex Smith is best for our team and can lead us this season and into the future.
“I’ve had a chance to study Alex Smith the last couple of seasons, even back (when Pederson coached for) Philadelphia. We just felt like as an organization and as an offense … we wanted to go find the best one out there.’’
The Chiefs may eventually turn out to be wrong about Smith. Their previous general manager, Scott Pioli, was wrong about Smith’s predecessor, Matt Cassel, who came from New England in 2009 under much the same circumstances as Smith this year.
But new Chiefs coach Andy Reid has long coveted Smith. While with Philadelphia, Reid in recent years inquired to the 49ers about the possibility of trading for Smith.
“I just appreciate him and his work ethic and the way he goes about business,’’ Reid said. “He’s very diligent and he gives his receivers an opportunity to catch the football. When he’s doing that and when we’re controlling the line of scrimmage with the different blocks we’re putting in, whether it’s pass protection or changing runs for the run game, he’s capable of that. So he does a nice job there.”
It will be almost impossible for Reid, Peterson and the Chiefs to succeed if Smith fails. They have much invested in seeing Smith prosper and have tried to build their offense around his abilities.
One of the other things they appreciate about Smith is his motivation after being benched in San Francisco.
“I think he did come here with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder,’’ Pederson said. “He’s our guy and we’re going to (play) with him. He’s come in here and he’s led this football team on and off the football field. He’s studied and prepared himself and he’s improving every day.”