ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — The loudest cheers at Kansas City Chiefs training camp are reserved for the long balls. Alex Smith drops back, lets it loose and a moment later a receiver is cruising into the end zone.
The Chiefs have a bevy of wide receivers with the potential to burst a game wide open with a big play. No one understands that better than Smith.
“I don’t care what group you put out there, you’ve got a bunch of guys that can go and a bunch of guys that are making plays,” Smith said. “There’s a ton of competition at that position right now, a lot of guys that are playing really, really well. It’s exciting here as we get into preseason to see those guys get their opportunities there.”
Taking chances down field depends on a number of factors. The offensive line needs to protect the quarterback and receivers need to get open and hold on to the ball. It also requires a quarterback making good decisions and being aggressive.
That’s where Smith is taking great strides, co-offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said.
“He understands that, if there’s anybody that understands where we want to go with this offense and stretching people downfield, Alex gets it,” Nagy said. “But he’s also going to be smart with his decisions, and he’s proven that with his track record. We’re going to use time in practice to take those downfield shots.”
The Chiefs have shown an eagerness to throw the ball deep and often down field. In just one short sequence during Monday’s practice, Smith hit Maclin for a long touchdown off play action followed by a running catch for a touchdown by Albert Wilson. Rookie speedster Tyreek Hill added another score using his blazing speed to get behind the safety.
The highlight of the practice was provided by Chris Conley extending in a sprint to snag a touchdown pass.
Nagy said Smith’s decision making thus far in camp has been strong.
“We always talk about the progressions, and the protections,” Nagy said. “Right now protection-wise he really knows the protections inside out. He doesn’t have to think about that. He sees second level, third level, more with the coverages.”
Last year the Chiefs proved more efficient taking chances down field. Smith targeted Maclin 25 times last year on passes longer than 15 yards. That’s nearly as many opportunities as Dwayne Bowe (30) and Donnie Avery (27) had in two seasons.
Maclin, Wilson and Travis Kelce all have completion percentages of 50 percent or better on deep balls from Smith. Adding the likes of Chris Conley, Rod Streater and Tyreek Hill to the mix puts more pressure on the defense, Smith said.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys that I feel like can do it all, and certainly speed is a strength of a lot of our guys,” Smith said. “When you put three of those guys out, safeties can’t help on all of them, and all of those guys have shown ability to make plays down field.”
A luxury of this year’s Chiefs team is an ability to move receivers around the line of scrimmage where any one of them could run the deep route.
“You get a lot of those guys on the field and you have a ton of good matchups, you’ve got a ton of guys who can stretch the field,” Smith explained, “You can move guys around at different positions, and I know coach loves that. You have a lot of deep threats. You got a lot of guys to choose from, guys to mix and match, move around. They can’t get a bead on one guy.”
Nagy says the receiver position group may be its strongest in the Andy Reid era.
“I think it’s safe to say that there’s definitely that talent there,” Nagy said. “The speed that we have right now is excellent.”
Matt Derrick is the associate editor for ChiefsDigest.com. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @MattDerrick.