RUMORS THAT Alex Smith was leaving San Francisco had been buzzing around the league for weeks in early 2013. When the Chiefs' trade for Smith finally became official on March 12, coach Andy Reid wasted no time calling.
His first words to the veteran quarterback? "Can you still run 22 Z In?"
22 Z In (noun): A pass play and staple of the West Coast offense in which one wide receiver runs a post pattern opposite the other's 12-yard curl, the tight end runs a short cross over the middle, the fullback runs a swing route as the hot receiver and the quarterback, after taking a five-step drop, throws quickly to his best, and deepest, open option. The kind of ball-control play a West Coast quarterback often uses on first down when the defense, seeing a two-back set, expects a run.
"Oh yeah," Smith replied. "Of course."
And so begins a happy marriage, a shotgun wedding (pun intended) between Reid, a coach who was run out of Philadelphia after 14 seasons, and a former No. 1 overall pick who was benched in San Francisco after eight rocky seasons. The relationship between these two Southern Californians, both grounded in Bill Walsh's West Coast offense, will be the key to whether Kansas City can make a quick turnaround after last season's 2--14 nightmare.
One of the strangest sights in training camp this summer was Reid—whose nickname is Big Red because of his short red locks—donning the Chiefs' red and white. After talking to the coach and those close to him, however, you get the feeling that he is glad to be out of Philadelphia and away from the day-to-day responsibilities of also being the executive vice president of football operations for an NFL team.
"I love coaching, and that's what I'm doing here," Reid said in his Chiefs training camp dorm at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Mo. "It's the fun part of the game to me. Change can be good, and I know this change is very good for me."
Added Smith, "The thing that I've noticed from Day One is how much he loves teaching and coaching, both in the classroom and on the field. It sends a great energy to the whole organization."
Big Red maintains that he twice tried to trade for Smith while coaching the Eagles—including once when he was in the process of signing Michael Vick to add to the Donovan McNabb--Kevin Kolb mix in 2009. Reid was always impressed with Smith's skill set, even though the QB doesn't have a good, deep arm. He liked Smith's football smarts and his ability to learn so many offenses in his time in San Francisco.
"I was there eight years," says Smith. "But it was only the last two years that we ran the same offense in consecutive seasons. So that's seven coordinators in eight years. It's why when I came here, it was really something I was used to, getting a new offense down. And this is the offense I've always loved."
Reid wants Smith to be the quarterback he was during the first nine games of 2012—when he ranked third in passer rating (104.1). Back then he had been a chains-mover, a West Coast tactician spreading the field, taking exactly what the defense gave him. Still, one of the criticisms of Smith during his time with the 49ers was that he was Mr. Checkdown, perfectly happy to take the dump-off to the hot receiver and gain six yards, even when a key receiver like Michael Crabtree might have a step on a cornerback flying up the right. In the 22 Z In, Smith will have more passing options with his backs coming out of the backfield, instead of just letting it fly for the wideout on the post route.
Despite the criticism, Smith's yards-per-attempt average last year was noteworthy: 7.97 yards per pass. That's better than Aaron Rodgers (7.78), Drew Brees (7.73), Matt Ryan (7.67) and Tom Brady (7.58). "I feel like I've been handed the keys to the car," says Smith. "I love the trust and opportunity that they've given me here. I really appreciate it and realize that it's no time to get complacent. I'm in the place I want to be. I don't want to give those keys up."
THE CASE FOR ...
Coach Andy Reid
After the Chiefs stumbled to a four-year, 23--42 stretch under G.M. Scott Pioli, owner Clark Hunt fired Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel and looked to build a bridge with a crestfallen fan base. If you survive as a coach for 14 years in Philadelphia without winning a Super Bowl, as Reid did, you're either a masochist or a diplomatic genius. Or both. Probably both. But this is a back-to-the-future job for Reid. The Eagles had won nine games in the two seasons before his arrival in 1999, and he promised a long-term program that players would need to fit into. Philly won 140 games in 14 years. These Chiefs won nine in the last two years. Reid will teach a new way, but he will have to motivate players that previous coaches struggled with—OT Branden Albert, for instance, and WR Dwayne Bowe. He will get to do that with a QB in whom he believes, and without the burden of personnel control that he carried for the last 14 years in Philly. He also gets to do it in a place far less feral than Philadelphia. "I've never heard a coach say he didn't enjoy coaching in this city," says Reid. The honeymoon's on—for a year or two, at least.
SINCE YOU'VE BEEN GONE
(N) NEW ACQUISITION
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QB ALEX SMITH
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