At first glance, the fact that a couple of times over the course of just five plays at a recent Kansas City Chiefs’ OTA practice resulted in a defensive player jumping offsides could go unnoticed to many.
It might go unnoticed, but it shouldn’t.
Now, this isn’t necessarily the time of year that people should be applauding and fawning over some small minutiae of the game. It’s more the time of year that fans should get excited about something like watching Sammy Watkins catching passes one-handed all over the field, although that’s been an occurrence on multiple occasions as well.
The reason people should care is that it shows Patrick Mahomes is developing within this offense.
He has a firm grasp of playing the position, and not that it’s been without it’s learning moments—those are there too, but the fact that he’s mentally processing a need to change-up his cadence, in May, to achieve those offsides penalties, means he’s thinking less about the obvious things and more on the small details of the game.
It’s a change from last year when he was simply trying to spit out the play call.
“You can focus on more things now that you’re comfortable calling the play,” Mahomes explained of his comfortability here in his second year. “Now that I’m comfortable calling the play, I can focus on the snap count, the man-zone IDs, and focus on what makes this offense so good.
“So, for me being in year two, I feel a lot more comfortable with that.”
A wise coach once said there’s no such thing as a small detail and maybe it’s overblowing is at this juncture, but it shows just how far Mahomes has come over the past year.
“He’s phenomenal. He’s got great leadership. He loves playing. He’s absorbing everything, and now he’s just got to do it,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid recently explained of his uber-talented second-year quarterback. “He’s got to just go practice and work through it and massage each play and see how it works against these different coverages.”
Part of the development process for Mahomes at OTAs this year is for him to get out there and test his limits—test his ability to make certain throws against certain coverages.
It’s the best time for him to learn what he can and can’t get away with at the NFL level, and perhaps more importantly in regards to that development and the learning process, he now has a chance to get most of the reps as he’s entrenched as the starter. He has the reps and opportunities to test all of those things.
“I want him to be exposed to things,” Reid explained. “Then you work with it and put your personality on it—try to find the things that he’s best at. We worked the offense around Alex [Smith] and built it around him, and now it’s this kid’s turn and you have to kind of feel that part out. He’s going to keep firing and that’s all we want.
“It’s a great time for learning. That’s what this is all about right here.”
“If you want to make mistakes you make them now,” Mahomes added. “You don’t want to make those mistakes in the game, so we throw a lot now so when we get to the game it’s a lot easier.”
The process of developing this offense around Mahomes’ strengths is one that Reid has been working on all offseason. He even has a little notebook full of notes on what Mahomes did best in college at Texas Tech, where he threw for more than 9,700 yards with 77 touchdowns to just 25 interceptions in his last two years.
“We didn’t necessarily work on that together but I can definitely see with some of the plays coming in that they have a lot of similar concepts to the plays I did really well with (at Texas Tech),” Mahomes smiled.
“I think it started last year. I think he got a feel, particularly with that (Week 17) game against Denver, for the plays I felt good about. That’s carried over to this year when we got to start meeting during OTAs. We’re still adding as we go here and I think we’ve already seen some success there. It’s been really good.”
The fluidity of the Chiefs’ offensive playbook isn’t new to this year. It’s been a staple of Reid’s genius over the course of his illustrious career—being known and praised as a coach who always finds ways to highlight his guys’ strengths, while also consistently scheming up mismatches into their favor.
“If you go in coach Reid’s offense, there’s like a thousand plays drawn up everywhere,” Mahomes laughed. “There are sticky notes and whiteboards everywhere. He has plays everywhere and he's always trying to add more. I’ll try and bring stuff to him too—things I see from other teams and things that I like.
“We have open conversation. If there’s something that one of us is disagreeing on we try to get out here and we see about it, and if it works we’ll keep it in, and if not, we’ll throw it away and hold off on it.”
The trial and error aspect of offseason workouts and how they’re approaching these practices in regards to Mahomes is necessary for a young quarterback, particularly one with the arm talent he possesses.
And it’s also not possible for anyone to reach their full potential in anything if they’re not constantly pushing beyond what they believe they’re capable of doing.
It’s necessary for growth—something Mahomes has consistently shown since he first stepped on the field at rookie minicamp last year.
“As a rookie, you come in and work hard and try to keep your head down,” he noted. “You try and prove to the team that you’re trying to do what’s best for them, and as you gain some of that respect as you go further into your career, you start talking more and people can really respect what you’re saying because it’s in the best interest of the team.”
And what has been in the best interest of the Chiefs so far this offseason is letting their young quarterback test the limits of what’s possible, while also developing a playbook full of proven plays that have put these talented skill position players surrounding Mahomes in the best position for success.