STATELINE, Nev. — Since being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft, Alex Smith has spent his entire career trying to prove himself.
Over the past two seasons playing for coach Jim Harbaugh with the San Francisco 49ers, it appeared that the former University of Utah quarterback was finally delivering on some of the expectations that are associated with being a top pick.
But Smith experienced a concussion 10 games into last season, which allowed backup Colin Kaepernick a chance to play. The promising young quarterback’s running and passing success kept Smith on the sidelines for the remainder of the season, which ended with the 49ers losing to Baltimore in the Super Bowl.
Now, an offseason trade to the Kansas City Chiefs has given Smith more motivation to prove himself all over again.
“Of course I’m motivated,” Smith said last Saturday following the second round of the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament near Lake Tahoe. “Sitting there and watching and not playing toward the end of the year was incredibly frustrating, so this is what I wanted. I wanted an opportunity and wanted it to happen in Kansas City, and it did. It’s my job now to go out and make the most of it.”
Smith didn’t vent his frustration to the media or cause a divide with the 49ers when Harbaugh decided Kaepernick was his starting quarterback.
“For me, San Francisco is in my rearview mirror, and I’m really looking forward to embracing the change,” Smith said.
Smith’s maturity and professionalism impressed NFL observers.
“I commend Alex for how he handled it last year, and it’s a great situation for him,” said Marshall Faulk, an analyst for the NFL Network and a retired NFL running back.
San Francisco traded its eight-year signal-caller to the Chiefs for a 2014 second-round draft choice as well as a conditional pick.
Like Smith, new Chiefs coach Andy Reid is adjusting to a change of scenery after spending 14 seasons as the Philadelphia Eagles' head coach.
“His track record speaks for itself as far as an offensive mind and head coach,” Smith said of Reid, who led the Eagles to four straight NFC Championship games from 2001 to 2004 and the 2004 Super Bowl. “The other thing that has jumped out at me right away is his joy for coaching. How much he still enjoys being out on the field, how he enjoys being in the classroom, enjoys the teaching. It’s contagious. You can see the energy and how much he likes it."
They began forming a bond during offseason workouts.
“I had a great offseason with coach Reid, the staff and team,” Smith said. “There will be a lot of new stuff going on. It’s exciting to get to work.”
Faulk believes that a change in ZIP codes will benefit Smith.
“Going to Andy Reid, there is no better player-coach that you can have, and I think Andy, with what they do, is going to fit what Alex does well,” Faulk said. “They have a lot of really good talent, but it’s whether they can block for him.”
Smith passed for 3,144 yards and 17 touchdowns in leading the 49ers to the NFC West Division title and into the NFC title game in 2011. His stats were even better 10 games into the 2012 season as Smith had delivered 13 TDs, completed 70.2 percent of his attempts and had thrown five picks. He doesn’t see any reason why he can’t continue to improve.
“It’s new scenery and some new things. You have to work those out — a new system, new faces — but I’m just looking to take my game and continue to get better and better,” Smith said.
Running backs Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis and receiver Dwayne Bowe should provide Smith with the offensive talent to become immediately successful.
“We have plenty of talent; it’s just a matter of all of us doing it,” Smith said. “So, as a unit, coaches and players included, it’s on everybody to really come together and be successful on the field.”
Smith threw for 47 touchdowns, completed 66.3 percent of his passes, tossed only eight interceptions in 587 attempts and ran for 15 touchdowns during his career with the Utes. The 2004 Mountain West Conference Player of the Year still makes time to watch his alma mater play and made a financial contribution early in his pro career to redo the program’s weight room.
“I stay in contact with (coach) Kyle (Whittingham), and (co-offensive coordinator) Brian Johnson is a good, good friend,” Smith said. “Without a doubt, I still watch them. On the West Coast, it was easy to get the Pac-12 Network, so I picked up a bunch of games. We’ll see if we can get it out in Kansas City.”
The 29-year-old Smith was looking forward to being reunited with former Utes coach Urban Meyer at the celebrity tournament, but the Ohio State coach withdrew because of unspecified reasons.
“It would have been great to see him. I got to play with him last year; it was great seeing him,” Smith said. “It’s hard seeing each other when we’re all working all over the country.”
Especially now that Smith has some unfinished business in Kansas City.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company