Bob Lutz: Alex Smith the first step in Chiefs’ climb
08/24/2013 12:00 AM
08/19/2013 1:42 PM
By now you know that first-year Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson has shown evidence of being delusional.
A couple of weeks ago Pederson, responding to a reporter’s question, gave high, high praise to new quarterback Alex Smith.
“Ultimately,” Pederson started, “every team has to have a quarterback.”
He should have stopped with that statement of the obvious. But he didn’t. He kept going.
“I think we have the best in the league.’’
Nine words that didn’t need to be said. Nine words that could haunt Smith as he tries to establish himself with a new team, new coach and a fan base that isn’t going to have a lot of patience.
Things are hunky dory in Kansas City right now. But what if Smith struggles early on? What if he throws a couple of interceptions in the season opener and the Chiefs lose to Jacksonville?
Smith got a bum deal in San Francisco, where he was 6-2-1 as the starter last season only to be replaced by Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick wears dynamite in his thigh pads. He’s a thrill-a-minute quarterback who helped the 49ers reach the Super Bowl. He should have been the starter.
But Smith didn’t deserve to be banished to the bench. He was 13-3 during the 2011 regular season. In 25 starts for San Francisco the past two seasons, Smith passed for just more than 5,000 yards and completed 64.2 percent of his attempts.
No, Smith isn’t the best quarterback in the NFL. And shame on Pederson for making such an irresponsible statement.
Even with all of that, though, Smith should have a good season. My expectations would be higher if Smith was surrounded by a top-flight receiving corps, but he isn’t.
Dwayne Bowe has had some big seasons, but otherwise the Chiefs are counting on Donnie Avery, A.J. Jenkins (a 49ers disappointment traded last week for equally-disappointing Jonathan Baldwin) and Dexter McCluster as deep threats. Tight end Tony Moeaki, returning from injury, should be a threat. And the Chiefs brought in Anthony Fasano to help Moeaki and rookie Travis Kelce.
It’s just an average receiving corps, on paper.
Smith’s job is to make it better than it appears. The league’s best quarterbacks don’t always have the league’s best receivers. Look what Peyton Manning did in Denver last season, elevating Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Now he adds Wes Welker to the mix.
Smith was just so-so during his five seasons in San Francisco. He looked like one of those top-pick busts that live the rest of their lives being asked about how they could have been so bad.
Thanks to Jim Harbaugh and his innovative offensive approach, Smith built something the past two seasons for which he can be proud. He may have lost the starting job, but he’ll forever hold onto his 19-5-1 record.
The Chiefs could turn out to be the beneficiaries of Smith’s newfound confidence. He’s entering the prime of his career, having turned 29 in May. He joins a team that was 2-14 in 2012, so there should be some space to grow. Rational people shouldn’t expect Smith or the Chiefs to be this season’s Indianapolis Colts of 2012.
That doesn’t mean we won’t see marked improvement in Kansas City. Andy Reid knows his way around an offense and hand-picked Smith as his quarterback. The Chiefs expect an improved offensive line, anchored by another overall No. 1 draft pick, rookie tackle Eric Fisher.
We all know what running back Jamaal Charles can do when he’s healthy and the defense has some playmakers, though I still question the line play.
It wasn’t long ago, remember, that Matt Cassel arrived in Kansas City, fresh from a season of success in New England after replacing the injured Tom Brady.
The Chiefs thought they had found their guy and Cassel led them to the playoffs in his first season.
Then the wheels came off and Cassel, now the backup to Christian Ponder in Minnesota, became Public Enemy No. 1.
Cassel was micromanaged by Todd Haley. He had many coaches and offensive coordinators in his short time in Kansas City. The Chiefs managed to turn a confident quarterback into a basket case.
There’s a more stable regime in Kansas City now. Reid doesn’t have to prove anything to anybody, the way Haley obviously felt he did.
Reid is a reserved, analytical coach and that suits Smith, who has shown the capability to be a lights-out passer.
The Chiefs have found their quarterback. Now it’s a matter of the weapons they plant around Smith.
Kansas City has to dig out of a 2-14 hole. It’s handed the shovel to a fine quarterback, capable of being everything they need him to be.
He’s not the best, but he might be good enough.
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