In front of the media following the Kansas City Chiefs’ ninth day of organized team activities, rookie wide receiver faced a question we have all had to deal with since the arrival of quarterback Patrick Mahomes and his MVP season in his first go as a starter.
“Have you gotten past that disbelief part?” a reporter asked.
And the 21-year-old Hardman answered better than any of us could have.
“I’m here,” Hardman explained. “Pat’s a professional, I’m a professional, too. You can’t be sitting here in ‘awe’ mode while you’re trying to win a job. But it’s great to be playing with him—we know what he can do, so you just got to show him what you can do, so he can have trust in you.”
When it comes to that, Mahomes and Hardman are getting there. Led by Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy, the Chiefs offensive coaching staff is providing them with the opportunity to build that.
“We’ve been giving him quite a few reps with Patrick and that’s the way you learn,” Reid said. “There are certain things that are finesse on this and there are certain things that you’ve got to really roll on. So, he’s sorting all that out and learning. That’s all part of the learning process. Then we’re throwing eight million coverages at him so he’s got to put that in the computer too as he goes. He’s handling it. He’s a smart kid. He’s just got to learn how we do it.”
Mahomes shares his head coach’s sentiment.
“You have to test it out,” Mahomes said when asked about his chemistry with Hardman. “You have to go out there and push it to the limit every single day. He’s getting better each and every day of pushing himself, working on each and every route. Not worrying about just the deep ones but the medium routes, the short routes, whatever it is to make his game better. If you’re working hard like that usually good things happen.”
A few weeks back, Hardman posted a photo of himself catching a pass from Mahomes to his official Twitter account, explaining it as a preview of things to come. Mahomes playfully quote-tweeted the rookie, saying, “Yeah as long as you keep running and stop slowing down.”
Hardman confirmed Thursday that is a lesson he has learned quickly: with Mahomes, there is seemingly no end to any play.
“It’s coming along—[I’m] starting to run, not slowing down. It’s different—with his arm, he can get it to you anywhere on the field—not most quarterbacks can do that, and he can do that... I could be 50-60 yards down the field, and he still can lead me, so we’re definitely trying to get the chemistry right with it but it’s coming.”
With such a unique quarterback throwing him the football, such an adjustment is to be expected. Hardman spent the past two seasons catching balls from Jake Fromm at Georgia. Now he is playing with the best quarterback in the world.
“I wasn’t really accustomed to it because you get 60 yards down the field, you think it’s over with,” he added. “I’m not [going to] get the ball, but when you see the ball up, and it’s traveling farther than what you think it is, it’s a hard adjustment, especially in your mind, but you just have to keep running and have faith in him that he’s going to get you the ball and everything will be right.”
According to Reid, it is helping Hardman that he is a quick learner. Reid first told reporters Hardman rarely makes the same mistake twice after rookie minicamp, and the Chiefs head coach doubled down last week.
“He’s getting better every day,” Reid said. “We’re asking him to do a lot and he’s staying up on it. Sometimes he’s not quite sure and there’s a little hesitation, then the next time he runs it he’s got it. So that’s what you’re looking for. We’ve been happy with his progress.”
That trait appears to be a source of pride for Hardman.
“Usually when you mess up one time, you don’t want to mess up again,” he said. “If I go out there and run the wrong route, I know I’m not going to do that again. Mistakes that you continue to make, they start getting off on you — ‘OK, he’s going to keep making mistakes.’ But if you show them — ‘OK he messed up but he came back and did it right,’ they can start trusting him that he won’t mess up like that.”
If he does mess something up, Chiefs wide receivers coach Greg Lewis is there to push him.
“He’s just demanding me to be great,” Hardman said of Lewis. “Being great is hard for anybody because you’ve got to put in the work that average people won’t put in, but he’s a great coach and he gives me all the details I need, and he’s definitely does a good job.”
When it comes to the starting returner position—which I still find to be a much safer projection for Hardman than assuming he will be a significant contributor on offense in year one—he says special teams coordinator Dave Toub provides the proper pressure to get the most out of him.
“He’s a perfectionist and I’m a perfectionist as well,” Hardman said of Toub. “I want to be right. I want to do everything right. I think his expectations for me are high and that’s what I expect out of any coach that’s coaching me — expectations be above the roof, so he’s a hard coach, but he’s a coach that’s going to teach you and make sure you get better as days go on.”
That is what this time of the year is about — improving as much as he can in the limited time the Chiefs have. Especially as a rookie in the NFL, there’s no time for “awe” mode.