The Alex Smith who Vernon Davis knew in San Francisco displayed qualities that caught the tight end's eye. Smith could move around, he withstood punishment -- on the field and off -- and he improved as he played. Then he was gone.
And now, reunited five years later in Washington, Davis sees something more in his new teammate.
“He’s been taking off,” Davis said Monday, the same day the Washington Redskins returned for offseason work. “His game has elevated dramatically. I say that because of his ability to get in and out of the pocket, he’s getting the ball downfield, he’s just placing the ball where it needs to be and he’s doing it effectively.
“He’s only getting better. He is going into his 14th season, and to see him playing the way he’s playing is unbelievable.”
Smith and Davis played 61 games together between 2006 and 2012 and became a productive pairing. During that time they connected on 229 passes, including 30 for touchdowns. Smith had a 115.2 passer rating when targeting Davis. And Smith averaged 8.55 yards per attempt on those passes to Davis -- his highest average among pass-catchers he targeted more than 20 times during that seven-year period.
Smith continues to like throwing to tight ends, which is good news for Davis and Jordan Reed. In Kansas City, also over 61 games, Smith connected on 291 throws and 21 touchdowns to Travis Kelce for a 115.0 passer rating.
Reed will remain the primary tight end when healthy, but Davis will get his share of chances. And some of the routes Kansas City used for Kelce fit Davis well -- downfield targets that lean on speed.
But the progress Davis sees isn’t about Smith's targeted receivers, but rather what he’s doing inside the pocket -- and out.
“His ability to get in and out of the pocket, keep the play alive,” Davis said. “That’s going to be tremendous for us, and it’s imperative that we have that because, you know, this game is all about how effective you can be, and if you can sustain plays, then that’s good, that’s great, because that allows the receivers to get open when everyone else thinks the play is dead and we can still keep going.”
Davis said he also likes how Smith continues to deal with adversity in his career. Smith was the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft and was heavily criticized for much of his time in San Francisco, which traded him to Kansas City after the 2012 season. In his seven seasons with San Francisco, Smith played for seven offensive coordinators and three head coaches. Smith was booed often in his home stadium.
“His mental capacity, his ability to fight through tough times and get through those moments, is tremendous,” Davis said. “He’s been that way since he was in San Francisco, and it actually seems like he’s gotten better at that as well and I applaud him for that.”
Whether Smith excels in Washington, that quality will help. Like many others on the roster, he’s been cast aside, criticized and played for multiple teams. He plays a glamour position, but it’s been a difficult road -- partly because of his own mistakes.
“I watched Alex go through so much,” Davis said. “His career was so turbulent with so many offensive coordinators and he had years where he wasn’t doing well, and then he had years where he started to excel. So he’s been through a lot. To watch him get better after he left, his game started to evolve right before he left San Francisco.
“I mean, this guy, he is at a different level right now. He is playing as an elite quarterback in this league, and it’s great to see that, it’s great to see his career, the way it started to where it is now.”