Think about the spot Alex Smith was in last season.
The Kansas City Chiefs traded a future first-round pick to move up to draft Patrick Mahomes. That meant no matter what Smith did last season, it was almost assured he was gone in 2018. And that’s what happened. Smith led the Chiefs to an AFC West title, led the NFL with a 104.7 passer rating, made a Pro Bowl and was traded anyway. That would have happened whether he was a good teammate to Mahomes or not.
And the whole time, Mahomes said, Smith was helping the rookie who he had to know would take his job.
“He’s an awesome guy and a true pro,” Mahomes told Jenny Vrentas of The MMQB during a long Q and A focusing on his transition to being a starter this season. “He had a great season last year, and being the person he is, he always was helping me whenever I did something he thought he could help me improve on. That’s just the type of leader he is. We have a great relationship, still, going forward.”
The debate about a veteran quarterback’s role in mentoring a rookie has come up again with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger saying he had little interest in mentoring Mason Rudolph. It’s true that Roethlisberger has a job, and it’s to play quarterback for the Steelers. The Steelers pay coaches to bring along Rudolph. It’s not Roethlisberger’s responsibility.
Still, Roethlisberger has a short memory. As The MMQB pointed out earlier this week, Roethlisberger thanked Tommy Maddox back in 2005 for his help. Maddox helped bring Roethlisberger along, although Roethlisberger was a first-round pick brought in to take his job.
”He’ll meet me halfway out on the field to answer a question for me,” Roethlisberger told USA Today in 2005, via The MMQB. “I owe so much of my success to his help.”
Given that and Mahomes’ comments about Smith, it’s a bit jarring to hear Roethlisberger basically say he won’t mentor Rudolph. Mahomes clearly benefited from having Smith as a teammate. His comments weren’t just general praise for Smith to avoid a touchy subject either; Mahomes provided specific details on how Smith helped him to The MMQB.
“Alex showed me how to make the reads easier so I can process faster and play faster,” Mahomes told Vrentas. “You look at coverages, and you learn how to eliminate things. Alex had seen and studied so much, and he was very helpful about showing me what he saw, so when I got out there I could put the ball in the right place and make the play work. In the Denver game he was helping me every single time I went to the sideline. We’d get on that tablet and we’d look at the plays, and he would help me identify how they were blitzing by how they were lining up with their fronts, and who was coming, and if this guy came, where I was supposed to put the ball.”
It does reflect well on Smith, who has been often criticized during his career but has put together a really solid 12-year resume as he heads to his third team, the Washington Redskins. If Smith wants a job in football afterward as a coach or executive, the selflessness he showed to Mahomes will be remembered and seen as a positive.
That doesn’t mean Roethlisberger should be Rudolph’s mentor. But Smith showed it can be done.
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