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Alex Smith Ex-NFL Player Doubts Defensive-Minded Head Coaches’ Ability To Develop Quarterbacks

Smith played quarterback in NFL for 14 seasons

Long gone are the days of an NFL team drafting a quarterback early in the first round and letting him sit on the bench as they slowly develop.

Franchises expect a young quarterback to immediately take the starting reins and be successful. But a large portion of their success depends on the roster around them and the coaching staff’s abilities to quickly develop them.

During a recent appearance on SiriusXM’s NFL Radio channel, three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Alex Smith shared his thoughts on whether he believed coaches with a defensive background are equipped to bring a young signal-caller up to speed.

“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.”

Smith said that in his estimation some of New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson’s shortcomings can be directly attributed to his head coach, Robert Saleh.

Before being named the head coach in New York in 2021, Saleh spent four seasons at the San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator.

“Robert Saleh, you’re a great defensive mind and coordinator, but, like, you have no idea how to develop a quarterback,” Smith said. “The coordinator you hired 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.”

Currently, the majority of head coaches in the league come from offensive backgrounds.

The 12 NFL coaches who worked on the defensive side of the football prior to becoming head coaches are: longtime Patriots coach Bill Belichick, Texans coach DeMeco Ryans, Cardinals coach Jonathan Gannon, Bills coach Sean McDermott, Bears coach Matt Eberflus, Saints coach Dennis Allen, Chargers coach Brandon Staley, Buccaneers coach Todd Bowles, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, Titans coach Mike Vrabel and Commanders coach Ron Rivera.

The remainder of the league’s coaches spent their careers on the offensive side of the ball or coached the special teams.

If an offensive coordinator has success, they will usually quickly draw interest from multiple teams that are looking to fill a head coaching vacancy.

Heading into the 2023 season, the Jets will not be focused on developing a young quarterback. The team will instead turn its attention to trying to get four-time league MVP Aaron Rodgers adjusted to the offense. Rodgers has the benefit of being able to work with his former offensive coordinator, Nathaniel Hackett.

Hackett was the Packers offensive coordinator from 2019 to 2021.

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