Patrick Mahomes scanned the field during a 7-on-7 period at training camp on Saturday, surveying his options before firing a dart to rookie tight end Noah Gray, who plucked the ball out of the sky and turned up field for a sizable gain.
It was another entry in what's become a familiar connection during the Chiefs' offseason program, as Gray has repeatedly made plays in practice ever since Kansas City drafted him in the fifth round back in May. The former Duke standout has impressed on a regular basis, and now with the rookie portion of training camp underway, he's looking to continue working on his skills ahead of the 2021 campaign.
"There were things during [Organized Team Activities] that I was asked to work on and that I need to continue to build on - things like route-running and blocking," Gray explained on Saturday. "We haven't put the pads on yet, but when the blocking comes, that's something that's going to need to continue to progress. There's also a lot of things in terms of route-running that I still need to get better at, so I'm just asking questions."
It certainly helps, too, that Gray is coming into camp with the foundation established earlier this summer – a luxury that last year's rookies weren't afforded due to the virtual nature of the 2020 offseason.
"OTAs were really a blessing for us – I don't know how the rookies last year did it," Gray said. "Going through that just really helped from a knowledge standpoint and understanding the basic concepts that this offense asks you to know. It was a huge help from that perspective."
And he seemed to make an impression in the process, earning praise from Mahomes during OTAs last month for not only his athleticism, but also his awareness on the field when plays broke down.
"Noah has been really good – I think he has a veteran-type skillset where he knows how to get himself open even if it's not exactly what the play is designed to do," Mahomes said in early June. "He knows how to get his eyes back and how to get on the quarterback's timing."
That's significant commendation coming from the 2018 NFL MVP, but Gray remains focused as ever on improving his game despite some early success at practice.
"It's a blessing that he thinks that of me, but I also understand that I need to come out here and keep grinding, keep hitting the playbook and keep practicing hard," Gray said. "From a mentality standpoint, it just means that I need to keep doing the things that I know that I can do. It's great that a teammate thinks that of me, but to be able to come out here and be the best teammate that I can be, that's what means the most to me."
One of those teammates is of course fellow tight end Travis Kelce, whose career is on pace to go down as one of the greatest ever at the position. Kelce is the only tight end in league history to ever tally five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, and his 1,416 receiving yards in 2020 were the most ever by a tight end.
The 31-year-old Kelce is the gold standard at the position, and according to Gray, his advice has proven invaluable over the last several months.
"It's tremendous. Like I said on draft day, I don't think there's anywhere else I'd rather be in the country," Gray said. "To be able to learn under Travis Kelce is a blessing. To come out here and to be able to gain that knowledge from him and to learn from him every day and to be able to visualize and watch him on the field, that's been something that's been extremely key to me coming out and being able to execute my assignments."
It's still very early in the process and the Chiefs have yet to practice in pads this offseason, but the initial returns have certainly been impressive. It's now up to Gray to maintain that strong start into the dog days of camp, and based on his remarks so far, he seems more than up for the challenge.
"We have a standard here, and I'm just trying to uphold that," Gray said. "I knew that coming in and I knew that as soon as I was drafted. It's a credit to my teammates for getting me up to speed on that and [continuing] it out here on the practice field."