LANDOVER, Md. -- It wasn’t flashy. It was effective. It was, in short, Alex Smith.
In his one series in Thursday’s preseason victory over the New York Jets, the Washington Redskins quarterback provided a glimpse into who he is and what he can give his new team. Sometimes it’s just poise in the pocket; other times it’s a subtle step to create more space. In other words: He’s a smart, experienced veteran who can still play.
Smith completed 4-of-6 passes for 48 yards Thursday. You can’t turn this into some sort of fantastic start for him because it was only one series and it didn’t result in a touchdown, though they did score three points.
The naked bootleg. On the first play from scrimmage, Smith ran a bootleg to his right and had a free rusher almost in his face as he turned around. Jay Gruden said they “messed up” the block on the play side. But what stood out is that Smith was able to quickly react and throw over the defender to receiver Paul Richardson, who turned it into an 8-yard gain. Nothing spectacular, but much better than it could have been.
"I thought it was good," Gruden said of Smith's game. "The first play was a great play. You know, you always expect the worst case when you do a naked bootleg or a peep around the end. We messed up the block there on the play side that he booted to, but he made a great throw to Paul and Paul made a good job making something happen. He made a couple other good throws. I was impressed. It was good, a good tempo."
The 16-yard pass to Vernon Davis. It’s a well-conceived play in which all Smith needed was to be patient and let the routes develop. But what stood out is how the defensive backs played the two receivers on the play: Paul Richardson ran a go route and drew the corner and safety. That left an open area for Josh Doctson, running a crosser that prompted the other defensive back in that area to quickly fall back. And once he did, Smith found an open Davis, who gained 11 yards after the catch. Smith had time to be patient, but did have a defender closing in on him. It didn’t matter.
The subtle pocket movements. On a third-and-8, Smith completed a pass to Doctson for a first down. Again, the play was drawn up well as Davis occupied a linebacker underneath against zone coverage, creating a window for Doctson. But Smith helped with poise. There was some pressure up the middle, so, keeping his eyes over the rush, he stepped to his left and delivered a strike. A veteran move. He also showed poise and trust in the protection.
Trusting the routes. On a first-and-10 in the red zone, Smith connected with running back Rob Kelley for 12 yards. Smith looked to his left at first, where Doctson ran a curl inside between two defenders and the inside man pinched toward him. That left Kelley free running across the middle out of the backfield. Smith, knowing this, quickly turned and hit him for a 12-yard gain.
Run threat. The Redskins ran Kelley on a zone-read carry in the red zone for four yards. It’s not as if other teams don’t know that Smith can run; they obviously do. And the Redskins used this tactic with Kirk Cousins as well. It’s not as if the defense completely froze and it was Kelley who sucked the linebacker inside by pressing the hole, then cutting for 4 yards. The Redskins absolutely must run the ball better in this area; it’s something Derrius Guice did well in college (among other things). But the Redskins have not proven they can do this with Kelley or anyone else of late. If Smith’s legs are incorporated more here, that could help.
The end-zone pass. Smith was slightly behind Trey Quinn on an in-cut in the end zone. It appeared the ball still could have been caught. And Jason Witten on the broadcast said Quinn was too patient at the top of his route, knowing the leverage he was getting. Indeed, a hard plant inside would have resulted in more separation and a better angle for the quarterback. Regardless, it was a failed connection. Keep in mind, during the regular season Jamison Crowder will be running that route and he’s a guy Smith absolutely trusts. He’s also quicker than Quinn.