Alex Smith knows a thing or two about good (and bad) quarterback development. The former No. 1 overall draft pick and three-time Pro Bowler struggled early in his own career, rejuvenated himself as the Chiefs‘ predecessor to Patrick Mahomes, then finished amid dire circumstances in Washington. Now, two years into retirement, Smith is suggesting defensive head coaches are often simply unable to properly develop QBs, using the Jets as a recent example.
“Yeah, Robert Saleh, you’re a great defensive mind and coordinator, but, like, you have no idea how to develop a quarterback,” Smith said of the Jets coach on SiriusXM NFL Radio, per JoeBucsFan.com. “The coordinator you hired (in 2021) never called plays. So that’s a completely different animal. And as much as you think you’re prepared to handle that development of a young kid, you’re just not.”
Smith’s comments were a reference to 2021 first-round pick Zach Wilson, who struggled so much in his first two NFL seasons that New York acquired a nearly 40-year-old Aaron Rodgers as a replacement this offseason. Wilson’s original offensive coordinator, Mike LaFleur, was also fired this offseason.
Smith’s remarks were part of a larger discussion on the ability of defensive coaches — or lack thereof — to shepherd a young QB to success.
“There is a different mentality, from my career, when you play for an offensive head coach that wants to light up the scoreboard and outscore the opponent,” Smith said. “There’s a different mentality you have, especially as a young quarterback versus a defensive head coach, when really the (coach’s) mentality is ‘Hey, don’t screw up, don’t turn the ball over, don’t put us in a bad situation.’ … That’s a huge difference in a mentality and a mindset for a young quarterback, especially if it’s a bit rocky to start.”
It’s worth noting that Smith entered the NFL back in 2005 under a defensive head coach, Mike Nolan, and promptly endured some of the worst statistical outputs of his career, throwing just one touchdown to 11 interceptions as a rookie. He later excelled under the offensively geared Jim Harbaugh, and Andy Reid in Kansas City. Smith finished his career under current Commanders coach and longtime defensive coordinator Ron Rivera in Washington, replacing another struggling former first-rounder in Dwayne Haskins.