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Six clues about Patrick Mahomes’ development

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The long awaited debut of Patrick Mahomes is upon us. It’s not a few quarters or possessions of meaningless preseason games. We get actual football against a good defense.

Sure, he’ll continue to grow and develop, but this is Mahomes’ last final in his last semester of quarterback school. Learning on the job starts soon. On Sunday, we see what skills and development he’s been able to refine and translate to his game in his redshirt year.

I went back and looked at the preseason snaps of Mahomes a little while back and the offense looked absolutely nothing like most of the things we’ve seen the Chiefs run in the regular season. I’ve done a lot of writing about Pat this year. I gave you a checklist of what to watch for growth wise in the preseason. Now it’s time to see his season-long development in Week 17 against the Broncos.

A lot has happened since the last time we saw Mahomes play. Here’s some things on Sunday I’m looking for that could help us piece together how he’s coming along.

Moving Pieces

One of the things I’m most curious about is the amount of shifts and motions implemented and the timing plays or fakes associated with them. Alex Smith is trusted to run an offense with a lot of diverse looks, players on the move and fakes. Do they trust Mahomes with all those on Sunday?

There’s a fine line between not putting new things on tape and being able to be competitive in a real football game. Repeating some of the things they did this year wouldn’t be showing too much. They still need to actually play the game. I expect some of the staples of the 2017 offense to still be there.

If there’s enough trust for him to handle all the little things, that should tell us what they think about his progress.

RPOs

You would think run-pass options would be a logical, easy thing for the Chiefs to incorporate for Mahomes. I would argue closely mirroring some of the 2017 offense is good for Mahomes in case he has to come in to a game during the playoffs. It might make an in-game transition a little easier. I’m curious to see if RPOs are part of the plan this week. More specifically, the decisions he makes with them.

Run-pass options have rules, reads and keys to what you choose what option you take. I’m very interested to see what choices Mahomes makes if they do run them.

Smith, for instance, has been run-heavy with his RPO decisions and they’ve done well. The success of RPOs could give us hints about the understanding of the concept.

The frequency of usage and what they are able to do with the packaged plays is something I’ll be looking for.

Audibles

The only thing we saw Mahomes do pre-snap in the preseason was identify the mike linebacker. I’m looking for if he’s asked to kill plays, adjust protections or get into new plays. If he points at an off ball player in the box, that’s just a mike linebacker identification for protection purposes. If he runs to the offensive line to yell something, signals to a receiver or starts barking out orders a second time, it’s likely adjustments he’s being asked to make.

Seeing more on his plate shows trust. More trust would be a significant clue.

Dropping back from under center

Mahomes didn’t throw a pass from under center without some kind of play action in the preseason. He either threw from shotgun, or gave a ball fake of some kind. I want to see if they let him throw from under center with a traditional drop back. The Chiefs don’t do that much anyway, but I would still like to see that he can.

Feet, feet, feet

It’s a buzzword for sure, but it really is everything. Mahomes needs to be able to win from the pocket. I believe he will grow into it. I want to see him hang in and give plays a chance as they were constructed, not bail too early and scramble around for a big play. I mean, I do want to see that too. I would like to see more traditional pocket negotiation though. I know he’s special out of the pocket, let’s see some growth from within it.

Smaller, more efficient movements against pressure would be a good start. Becoming more efficient with movements is a real, noticeable way to see that he is developing in that area. The structure of the pocket he worked from in college is so different than the NFL. He will always have less space from here on out and his feet need to reflect that. It’s probably the biggest learning curve and will take years, but I want to see some improvement and proof he’s starting to acclimate.

Who’s his guy?

The old saying is a backup will find the guy he’s built chemistry with, even if he’s not typically a big part of the gameplan. I want to see who Mahomes favors, if anyone. Rapport between a quarterback and receiver is everything. Trust in those relationships are important. Who does Mahomes trust? That could tell us about the future of the offense if there’s an obvious target.

This is going to be fun. I don’t have expectations. I just want to see tangible growth. How much the Chiefs ask him to do will tell us about how things have gone and what the future may hold.