The trade for quarterback Alex Smith might take another year or more to adequately assess, but at least from their part, the Chiefs may not feel the need to wait. Quarterbacks coach Matt Nagy came close to calling it a success after practice Thursday.
“He’s been everything that we thought he was,” Nagy said of Smith. “He’s a true professional. He’s in his (playbook) every day. He’s always asking questions, trying to get better. He’s being a leader for the other (quarterbacks) as well.”
Smith, like the other Chiefs quarterbacks, has had his successes and failures on the practice field. He is learning a new offensive system under a new set of coaches and throwing to a new set of receivers.
Smith and his teammates are prohibited under NFL rules from working in pads, so at this time of year, practice is conducted at something less than full speed, and a better quarterback evaluation is generally done at training camp, when teams are allowed to hold padded practice sessions.
Most teams are generally pleased with their quarterbacks at this stage, when there is no defensive pressure for them to worry about. The Chiefs, for instance, were content with Matt Cassel at a similar point after trading for him in 2009. Once the games began, Cassel never developed into the player they thought he could become, and in March he was released.
The Chiefs believe they already have an accurate grasp of what Smith is capable of in a physical regard, having watched on tape all of his games as a starter with the San Francisco 49ers. But none of their key offensive figures, including Nagy, coordinator Doug Pederson or coach Andy Reid, who will call the plays, had any experience with Smith, so they weren’t certain what they would get from their new starting quarterback in terms of preparation and work habits.
That part of Smith’s game has provided them with some relief.
“He’s comfortable with what we’re doing,’’ Pederson said. “He’s understanding the terminology, and he’s orchestrating that at the line of scrimmage. We’re really pleased with where he’s at right now.’’
Those intangibles were the unknown.
“I’m with him every single day,’’ Nagy said. “Just talking X’s and O’s and past experiences he’s had, he brings some good things to our attention as a staff. He has a lot of valuable experience. He’s been through a lot. Having those experiences and coming in here to a team with a new staff, it’s been an awesome experience. Throughout this process, we’re taking in what he has, he’s taking in what we have, and we’re putting it all together and trying to make this work.
“When he’s out here on the practice field, he’s a leader. The guys look to him. The quarterback position is so important to be that leader, whether it’s vocally or by your play. He does both of that. Having him be able to do that and have some of these younger guys look up to him, that’s what we need, and that’s what we expected he’d have and he does have that.’’
In return for Smith, the Chiefs sent their second-round pick in this year’s draft plus a third-rounder next year that converts to a second if they win eight or more games this season. Smith would be worth any price if he becomes the long-term solution at a position that has been most elusive for the Chiefs.
“It’s been great,’’ Smith said of his first few practices with the Chiefs. “It’s been football. I’ve been itching for this for a long time. I was sitting there watching a lot of football at the end of last year. I’ve said this before: This is what I wanted, and now it’s here. I’m just trying to make the most of it.’’
The Chiefs also signed former Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel to be Smith’s backup, even though he’s thrown only nine passes in four seasons behind Drew Brees for New Orleans.
“It’s evident he’s been with such a great quarterback in Drew,’’ Nagy said. “He comes in and he’s very cerebral with the protections. He understands the game and he’s a competitor. He pushed Drew Brees every day in practice, and that’s what he’s going to do here with Alex.’’
Ricky Stanzi and rookie Tyler Bray are the other quarterbacks. Stanzi, who has been with the Chiefs for two seasons without getting into a regular-season game, began the offseason as the third quarterback, a significant fact this time of year only because he will get more snaps in practice.
Bray and Stanzi have since flipped spots, with Bray getting more practice snaps.
“I want to see each guy every day getting better,’’ Nagy said. “If one is a little bit behind the other, I want to see who that is and I want to see if he’s going to improve. Is he getting better? If he’s going backwards, that’s not what we want. Let’s see him improve.
“Let’s not put them against each other right now. Let’s just see where they’re at individually, and if you get better, that’s great. We’ll go from there.’’