Before every game, quarterback Patrick Mahomes feels that oh-so-familiar feeling of adrenaline, anticipation and nervousness.
Then the Chiefs run out on the field, the offense gets the ball … and he stays on the sideline.
Let’s just say Mahomes, a 2 1/2 -year starter at Texas Tech who was selected 10th overall in this year’s NFL Draft, is not used to this.
“It’s been a while since I’ve had to sit and watch,” said Mahomes, who declared for the NFL after his true junior season. “It’s weird. I mean I love, love playing football, and I love competing and everything like that, so before the game, the adrenaline’s pumping just like I’m going to play, and I have to manage it and make sure I’m into the whole game and make sure I’m ready.”
Not to say the experience on the sideline hasn’t been useful for Mahomes, 6 feet 2 and 225 pounds.
“It’s been awesome so far, just building chemistry with the team and getting to meet everybody and getting to know how an NFL season goes,” Mahomes said. “Just living out the dream.”
Although Mahomes completed 63 percent of his passes for 390 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions in the preseason, he’s considered his apprenticeship behind starter Alex Smith invaluable.
Smith, 33, is in the midst of an MVP-type campaign, but has been gracious enough to share tips with Mahomes, 22, about how to lead men and, most importantly, how to prepare for success on Sundays.
“I mean, you don’t get any days off,” Mahomes said. “You do, but at quarterback you don’t. So you’re watching film every single day, trying to make sure you’re prepared and ready. That’s something you hear about, you talk about, but until you’re here, you don’t actually know what it’s like.”
That means coming in voluntarily on Mondays and Tuesdays, despite the latter being an off day. On those days, Mahomes joins Smith and No. 3 quarterback Tyler Bray in watching two to four games of the next opponent in an attempt to get a jumpstart on the gameplan. Whether it comes to watching film or seeing little things in coverage that helps him get the Chiefs into the right play, Smith has been helpful.
“Luckily I have Alex to help me out with that, and Bray,” Mahomes said. “I think the biggest thing Alex is helping me with is knowing how to cut out mistakes.”
Smith has not been shy about offering on-field tips, either, with Mahomes pointing out that he’s helped him refine his footwork under center, an area he rarely had to practice in at Texas Tech.
“He knew I was struggling with keeping myself square the whole time,” Mahomes said. “Just little things like that … he knows how to cut out those mistakes he made his rookie year and help me be more prepared and ready any time I get my opportunity.”
Despite being the No. 2 quarterback, Mahomes doesn’t get much on-field work with the first-string offense. Teams don’t have as much time to practice under the new collective bargaining agreement, so Smith gets the majority of the on-field work when the offense is practicing.
But Mahomes does take mental reps behind Smith in practice, which he said are helpful.
“With how prepared he is, studying film with him, I know — a lot of the time — where he’s going to throw before he throws it,” Mahomes said.
That said, Mahomes actually gets most of his on-field work on the scout team, where he simulates the upcoming opponents’ pet plays.
“Yeah, I take that very seriously,” Mahomes said with a laugh. “It’s kind of funny; I always joke with the defensive guys, and I try to make them as prepared as they can be. But I’m gonna work on my game at the same time, work on my footwork, things like that.”
That process appears to be going very well. The Chiefs’ coaching staff has been pleased with Mahomes’ development, as offensive coordinator Matt Nagy has seen noted improvement in Mahomes’ comfort level within the pocket.
“Everything’s not going 100 miles an hour anymore,” Nagy said. “When you watch him you can just see he’s not panicky, he’s comfortable.”
Nagy said Mahomes has also done a nice job toning down his natural playmaking instincts to give the first-string defense an accurate look. Mahomes’ creativity is his best attribute, and while he can make some throws other quarterbacks can’t, showing that off with regularity can run contrary to what the opponent will likely do.
“It’s a tough job there, because sometimes it’s like telling a pitcher to throw balls,” Nagy said. “They might circle a guy and say ‘Hey, this is who they show a tendency to throw it to, so we want you to throw to that guy.’ Then they cover him, and he has to throw a pick.
“But, he can work on his footwork, he can work on his feet in the pocket, understanding throwing lanes.”
So Mahomes tries to stay within the opposing team’s offense as much as possible, though there are times they play certain quarterbacks who scramble more than others.
“That’s when it gets more fun,” Mahomes said with a laugh.
And Mahomes — who demonstrated a knack for making difficult, absurd throws in training camp — has continued to flash that ability in those instances.
“He has really, really good field vision,” Nagy said. ‘Really good vision. Really good.”
The time will come, eventually, for Mahomes to display that talent on Sundays. But in the meantime — and perhaps for the foreseeable future, Smith continues to play at an elite level — all Mahomes can do is work on his game, learn as much as he can and be patient, no matter how badly he wants to run on the field with his team.
“I feel more and more prepared every week,” Mahomes said. “Just learning the tricks of the trade, learning what you have to do every single week and how you prepare so you’re ready for every look the defense gives you.”