Given all the experimenting the Chiefs have done at the receiver position during training camp, it’s easy to expect rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes to occasionally feel overwhelmed on the field.
But when the pocket breaks down, things start moving fast and Mahomes needs to make a play, there’s a good chance he’s looking undrafted rookie receiver Gehrig Dieter’s way.
“He’s a fighter,” Mahomes said of Dieter. “He’s someone who goes out there and competes at everything he does. You need guys like him, guys who are going to lay it out on the line for you every single play, every single game. You see that in Gehrig.”
Dieter, who has also made an early impression on the Chiefs’ coaching staff after three weeks of training camp, often spends extra time after practice working out with Mahomes, and the pair also maintain a close relationship off the field as Dieter works to prove he belongs.
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“I’ve always felt like I can compete at a high level,” said the 6-foot-3, 207-pound Dieter. “Nothing is going to stop me from being confident in myself. I know I can make plays and know I can compete against anyone out there.”
Competing against older, more experienced receivers isn’t unusual for Dieter. For most of his youth, throughout Pop Warner football, he played against kids several years older than him.
And as one of five children to Derek and Suzy Dieter — two long-time police officers with more than 55 years of service between them — Dieter was raised with an awareness of the sacrifice it took to work for something bigger than himself.
“He’s selfless — Gehrig always goes above and beyond the call of duty,” said Arizona State offensive coordinator Billy Napier, who coached Dieter at Alabama. “He understands how to be a good teammate. It’s important for him to be successful and that comes from how incredibly disciplined he is.”
Derek, Gehrig’s father, takes pride in that. His named his sons, Gehrig, Nolan and Thurman, after three legendary baseball players — New York Yankees’ legends Lou Gehrig and Thurman Munson and Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan — who displayed the traits he wanted his sons to have.
“Each one of those athletes were hard-working, blue-collar-type players” Derek said. “That’s how we raised them and that’s the type of men they’ve become today. They were good kids, and I think that came from their work ethic.”
That work ethic propelled Dieter to success at Washington High School in South Bend, Ind., when he torched opponents weekly, setting a then national record for most receiving yards in a single game with 437.
After spending a forgettable freshman year at Southern Methodist, he transferred to Bowling Green, where he eventually became a campus icon. During his junior year, he caught 94 passes for 1,033 yards and 10 touchdowns. Dieter also appeared on SportsCenter’s top ten plays numerous times with catches similar to Odell Beckham Jr.’s one-handed grab.
“All that highlight stuff was fun, for sure,” Dieter said. “But I was always just trying to be ready to make plays.”
Dieter decided to spend his final collegiate season as a grad transfer at Alabama. He made an impact with the Crimson Tide, but it didn’t always show up on the stat sheet. He finished with 15 catches for 214 yards and four touchdowns. Dieter had notable stints at the slot but really developed as a stud blocker for Alabama.
“He wants to play for his teammates and plays with a tremendous amount of pride,” Napier said. “He might make five catches every 60 plays, but there are 55 other plays where he plays without the ball and it tells what type of teammate he is. He took that and ran with it.”
Throughout his first NFL training camp, Dieter hasn’t been perfect. He’s had his share of drops, most notably during a couple of live-punt situations during last Friday’s practice. But there have been moments when he’s impressed the staff, making several difficult catches over the middle and showing his rapport with Mahomes.
“(Dieter) runs well, he plays hard,” special teams coach Dave Toub said. “He’s going to make the team — if he makes the team, it’s going to be through special teams. He’s going to have to show out in the preseason games.”
Should Dieter continue to have a good preseason, he could be a candidate for the practice squad, where he could continue to work with Mahomes and develop as a receiver. His next step toward earning a spot will come Friday, when the Chiefs host the San Francisco 49ers in their first exhibition game.
“All these guys have chips on their shoulders — it’s an underrated group,” Dieter said of the Chiefs’ receivers. “Every single day you have to bring it and if you don’t, you won’t be playing that week.”