Early last season, Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif encountered something a bit abnormal during a game. The man he intended to block suddenly sprinted away from him — rather than directly toward the quarterback pocket — almost immediately after the snap.
Worried he’d missed his assignment, Duvernay-Tardif reached out and grabbed the defender. A moment later, a piece of yellow cloth lay at his feet.
When he returned to the huddle for the ensuing play, Duvernay-Tardif received the explanation. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes had rushed out of the pocket in search of a better throwing window. The defender pursued.
“I was so used to Alex (Smith) sitting in the pocket that when my guy started running, I reached out and grabbed him, like, ‘Get back in here,’” Duvernay-Tardif said. “Then I (learned) that Pat was also back there running around.”
For years, offensive linemen learn the ins and outs of pass protection. They are drilled to use specific techniques to keep the quarterback’s pocket clean, tweaking it for interior and edge rushers.
But Mahomes is among the few quarterbacks in the NFL to prompt linemen to deviate. It’s not throw-your-technique-out-the window adjustments. Far from it. They still use their ingrained methods. But they must be ready to adjust in a moment’s notice. Because whereas many passers might lock into a specific area directly behind the line, Mahomes has no problem winging it.
“You just have to block where he’s supposed to be at the beginning of the play,” Schwartz said. “And then as you see the entire defensive line running in one direction, you try to chase as best you can.”
Few on the Chiefs have such critical jobs. Sure, offensive linemen are always tasked with protecting the quarterback. They’re graded on it. They’re paid based on their ability to do it.
But blocking for the league’s most valuable player?
“I feel like we’re protecting the future of the franchise,” Duvernay-Tardif said.
The importance of such an assignment is hard to quantify, though Schwartz quipped, “I think they’re going to quantify his value next year with a contract.”
For a brief moment in last weekend’s opener in Jacksonville, the Chiefs caught a glimpse of the possibility of life without Mahomes. Technically speaking, he was hit just four times in the 40-26 win. But the two hardest hits he absorbed didn’t show on the stat sheet. Mahomes got crushed on a play negated by an intentional-grounding flag.
More prominently, he injured his left ankle on a play with offsetting penalties, sandwiched between a pair of defenders. After initially finding no one open, Mahomes had looked to extend the play. As he so often does. But he ran out of room. He took a hit, with Jaguars rookie Josh Allen rolling up on his ankle as Allen made the tackle.
“You don’t want him to get hit at all. That’s the objective,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “In some cases, we have to just do better. I have to do a better job putting the guys in the right position. When there, they have to make sure that they pick them up. That’s how it goes. We try to keep him clean the whole game.”
Mahomes completed the full week of practice without issue. Reid said his quarterback won’t be limited in Oakland — though his offensive line might be, with left tackle Eric Fisher suffering a groin injury late in practice Friday; he’s listed as questionable.
If Mahomes is truly healthy, the Chiefs line will prepare for him to do his thing.
“You have to be ready for it. You have to get your feet going and try to extend the play the same way Pat is working to extend it,” Duvernay-Tardif said. “You just have to trust that he’s seeing something down the field that’s worth it — because that’s what he does.”