A quartet of notes on the Chiefs’ quarterbacks as the defending AFC West champs wrap up the open portion of training camp at Missouri Western.
▪ Rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes has gotten a lot of love for his on-field creativity in training camp, and rightfully so. His elusiveness in the pocket is real, and he’s athletic enough to make teams pay with his legs when things break down. But the encouraging thing about his skill set is how Mahomes, without exception, is always looking to throw downfield, even when he’s running around. That’s not always a given in this league, especially with young players. But it’s a trait that the elite quarterbacks with athleticism — Steve Young, Aaron Rodgers, even Brett Favre and John Elway — all had.
“Throughout my whole football career, I have always known I wasn’t the fastest guy,” Mahomes said. “I’m a little quick, I can run a little bit, but I know I can’t make a lot happen. So my thinking always was, ‘why don’t you put it in the fast guys’ hands and let them make plays.’ So, when I scramble and do those things, I try to look downfield, look for the playmakers, put it in their hands and let them make all the big plays happen.”
That should be music to the ears of Chiefs fans.
▪ Speaking of Mahomes, it’s worth noting that a number of his interceptions throughout camp came on short-to-intermediate throws over the middle of the field. As my friend and colleague Omar Kelly noted, that’s typically the area of the field where rookie quarterbacks struggle to see the most. I wouldn’t freak out about it, but keep it in mind if Mahomes has a preseason pick or two there.
▪ Sticking with the quarterbacks, I must reiterate — for the 1,382nd time — that starter Alex Smith is having a nice camp. He’s never been more decisive or aggressive in camp, and I’ve heard from some in the organization who think Mahomes’ presence has helped push Alex to be more aggressive, given the rookie’s gunslinger tendencies.
To be fair, Alex showed the same aggression — maybe a tick less — during camp last year but went on to have a season that was, stats-wise, below my expectation for him. I thought he was going to kill it last year, but some combination of an overwhelming amount of zone coverage and the two brutal shots he took in the Indianapolis game robbed him of his scrambling ability, which was a major way he made plays during his very strong 2015 campaign.
If I had to guess which way he’ll go this year, I’d bet on Smith being better than he was a year ago. He is a proud, competitive man, and he has responded to the challenge of Mahomes’ selection — and advanced skill — as well as you hope. As 33 years old, the guy has been through so much in his career, and he’s pretty mentally tough. He deserves a chance to guide this group of men this season as long as they are in the playoff hunt.
And by the way, even if Smith is the same guy he was last year, it’s likely the Chiefs will still have a good season. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again — No. 11 is a really good, really underappreciated quarterback, and there are many, many teams in this league that would be better off with him.
▪ It was good to see No. 3 quarterback Tyler Bray bounce back after a really rough practice on Monday. All the quarterbacks struggled due to the nature of the practice — the Chiefs were working on third-and-long situations, which is hardly conducive for quarterback efficiency — but of the top three guys on the depth chart, Bray struggled the most. His passes were largely errant — lots of overthrown balls — and after one uninspiring 11-on-11 session, coach Andy Reid addressed him, alone, at midfield for about 10 seconds.
Now, I know Bray, 25, is in a tough spot, recently losing the No. 2 job to Mahomes. As a competitor, that’s got to be tough to swallow, especially when he had the No. 2 job swiped last year as well (by Nick Foles). But when you face adversity in this league, coaches want to see you respond with an “eff you” attitude, one where it’s clear you’re determined to prove them wrong. Bray has been here for five years now so he knows the offense, and his deep ball is still a very good to borderline elite trait. There are worse quarterbacks in this league than Bray, and if he keeps fighting he can have a long career, even in Kansas City, given the amount of time this staff has invested in him. But it’s up to him to turn it up and refuse to go down without a fight.
His comments during Wednesday’s press conference, by the way, were encouraging. I asked him, right off the bat, how he handled being moved down a spot on the depth chart this week. His response?
“It is a competition — the season hasn’t started yet,” Bray said. “I don’t think it is a set depth chart, I just know (Pat) is going in there and getting some second-team reps.”
To be sure, Mahomes is the future at quarterback in Kansas City — his talent is absurd and the club spent two first-round picks, plus a third, to get him. But Bray should use this as an opportunity to just go out, have fun and do everything he can prove the coaches wrong. The pressure is off you now, young man. Just go out there, play ball and let it rip.