With two minutes placed on the game clock, and lots of eager eyes watching him intently — both on the field and in the stands — Chiefs rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes went to work on Saturday.
Sure, it was just one drive on a picture-perfect day. And sure, the Chiefs’ undisputed No. 1 starter at quarterback — Alex Smith — has ripped it up through the first two full-squad practices. But what Mahomes proceeded to do in that moment not only brought giddy cheers from the fans who ventured to Missouri Western to watch Saturday’s practice, it also opened the eyes of the Chiefs’ coaching staff.
“He’s doing great,” offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said. “And I tell everybody, from his very first practice he had when he came in and was screaming at the huddle what the play was and didn’t realize he was talking to the defense too, to where he is right now ... it’s a huge leap.”
For instance, on the first play of the drive, Mahomes hung in the pocket, looked off the safeties and ripped a missile down the seam to tight end Ross Travis, who galloped downfield for a huge gain that drew loud applause from the crowd.
“It was phenomenal,” Nagy said. “It was a great throw.”
And after two quick completions to running back C.J. Spiller — the latter of which came on a throw in which Spiller skied high over the middle to haul it in — Mahomes spied the coverage, saw no one open and scrambled about 15 yards for a touchdown run, punctuating it by holding the ball out across the goal line with his hand.
The distance of the drive: Seventy-five yards. The time it took? Only one minute and four seconds — exactly what the coaches hoped to see from their first-round pick, whose outstanding combination of creativity and arm strength lends itself to success in situations like the two-minute drill.
“He’s used to that two-minute stuff,” Nagy said. “You see a lot of his (college) tape, he’s out of the pocket, he’s scrambling, there’s tense moments and tight throws. It’s some of his strengths.”
But while Mahomes has gotten plenty of praise throughout camp thus far — tight end Travis Kelce recently said it took him years to pick up what Mahomes has already learned — he’s still third on the quarterback depth chart behind starter Alex Smith and Tyler Bray.
And Smith, by the way, is having an outstanding camp himself. Though he failed to lead the Chiefs to a touchdown in the two-minute drill Saturday — receiver Chris Conley dropped a fourth-down pass — Smith has been decisive and accurate, completing 21 of 26 passes in 11-on-11 situations the first two days of camp.
“He’s doing awesome right now, too,” Nagy said of Smith. “We were just saying today that this is the most on-point that we’ve seen him in a long time. He’s on fire right now.”
Nagy said that things have slowed down for Smith, who is entering his fifth year in coach Andy Reid’s offense.
“He knows this offense inside and out, so that part’s going to be easier,” Nagy said. “But right now, the accuracy that he’s throwing with is special.”
Nagy counted three “special” downfield throws Smith made Saturday, thanks to the combination of accuracy and touch he displayed on them. The best, perhaps, was a go-ball to speedster Tyreek Hill, who hauled in a well-placed over-the-shoulder throw from Smith a few steps behind Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters.
“He’s coming out here very aggressive, but he’s playing fast and he’s playing real smart,” Nagy said of Smith. “Those other quarterbacks below him see that and that elevates their games.”
But while Smith remains the clearly-defined No. 1, it certainly doesn’t hurt him to have a quarterback like Mahomes to push him. Bray remains the No. 2 quarterback, and he’s also had some nice moments in camp — along with a few spotty throws — but Mahomes’ overall creativity, arm strength and first-round pedigree certainly makes him a worthy foe in the long term.
“Obviously when you’re drafting a guy that early you’re hoping he’s bringing that quality,” Smith said. “There is an unwritten, unsaid and untalked about deal … when the quarterback is really good, then it’s really competitive and we do compete in everything. We do all the time, we keep score in everything. The better everyone is, then I think that’s just going to make everyone better, myself included.
“Like I said, it’s about the quality. Certainly Pat fits that. The kid is really talented.”
While Mahomes still has a ways to go when it comes to his understanding of the playbook and command of the offense, the coaches have also seen some really promising developments on the intangible front, namely when it comes to his demeanor. Reid generally presents a very public face, but on the field and in the classroom, he can get after people with the best of them and really apply pressure when he wants to, both with his words and demeanor.
Mahomes has not been spared from this rarely-seen aspect of Reid’s coaching style, but Nagy called the 21-year-old “coachable” and said he’s been handling it well.
“He’s very calm, and you can’t break him down,” Nagy said. “Coach gets after him now and every once in a while, and I’ll be looking out of the corner of my eye to see if he’s starting to break down, but he’s doing great. As of now, he’s pretty unbreakable. But we’ll see how that goes as the test goes on.”
The good news is, there’s a belief that Mahomes can be coached up in the areas where he needs work. The things that come natural to him — like the ability to make any throw and gumption to do so in high-stress situations — can’t really be taught.
“It’s easier to teach the other stuff,” Nagy said. “I think some of that (two-minute success) is DNA. If you have it, you feel comfortable in it. When we’re in our two-minute situation and the clock’s rolling, there’s less time to think, you’re going faster, so you just play ball.”
But while Saturday’s scoring drive was a high-water mark for Mahomes during his short tenure thus far with the Chiefs, you don’t have to worry about the rookie taking his foot off the pedal anytime soon.
When Mahomes walked off the field following the drive, Nagy and some other coaches greeted him not only with smiles and praise, but prodding, as well.
“Don’t get too big of a head,” Nagy recalled telling Mahomes, with a laugh. “And it’s okay to run the ball and just protect it with two hands, and not one hand, in the end zone.”