After the Kansas City Chiefs finished their 13th full practice of training camp on Thursday — the last one before they open their preseason schedule against the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday — quarterback Patrick Mahomes reflected on the team’s main offensive goal of the offseason: improving in the red zone.
While the team scored on 47.9% of their drives in 2020 — tied for the league’s third-best mark — the red zone was a different story. On drives that reached inside the 20, the team scored a touchdown just 58.9% of the time — a figure that ranked 16th in the league.
“We’re trying out different plays,” Mahomes told reporters. “We’re trying out different movements to put our best guys in the best position possible — and then other guys are going to have to make plays. We’ll lean on those guys to make plays.”
Many of those players are new to the team— especially on the offensive line, which is likely to begin the season not only with an entirely new set of starters, but also with as many as three rookies among them: center Creed Humphrey, right guard Trey Smith and right tackle Lucas Niang.
For Mahomes, that’s definitely been an adjustment. But he said that it has been going well — starting with an open line of communication with veteran left tackle Orlando Brown, Jr., who came to the team through an offseason trade with the Baltimore Ravens.
“Orlando is great about it, talking about different things that he is trying and seeing how I like them. [I’m] trying to build that relationship — build that kind of comfort with them.”
Mahomes also said that there is another reason that he feels comfortable with Brown protecting his blind side: his experience playing with other top-level quarterbacks.
“He’s played with great quarterbacks [like] Lamar Jackson and Baker Mayfield,” he noted. “I mean, he’s played with great quarterbacks in his lifetime — and we’re all a little bit different. He’s trying to get a good feel. He’ll try something one day and ask if I liked it. I’ll tell him the truth — and he wants to hear that, so he can know how I’m feeling throughout the game.”
Mahomes didn’t specifically address the new rookie linemen on Thursday — but when Brown spoke to reporters on Tuesday, he did. And the expressive tackle didn’t hold anything back.
“They’re great,” he exclaimed. “For them to be rookies, man, doing what they’re doing in practice is really special. Obviously starting with Lucas at tackle — which is a really hard position in this league, especially right tackle — he’s going to see a lot of talent and I think he’s ready for the challenge. He’s a really, really good player. He’s a great athlete and he’s got really good feet. He’s super big, man — and I’d be surprised if he were to struggle this year.”
But Brown wasn’t done.
“Trey’s another guy that I feel as though — as he said before me — he’s a goon,” he continued. “He approaches it like that — and he’s got that type of mindset. So he’s been able to consistently kick ass out here at camp, man. I’m super pumped and proud of the way he’s approached it — and approached the game. He’s been really good.”
And then he added a kicker that got the reporters laughing.
“And Creed is Creed,” he grinned. “Boomer Sooner, man. I expect no less.”
Mahomes also feels good about two new rookie receivers: fifth-round tight end Noah Gray and sixth-round wide receiver Cornell Powell. Gray has received more attention about his play during training camp, but Mahomes said he thinks both of them are progressing nicely.
“They’re coming along strong,” he maintained. “I mean, it’s hard when you come into this offense, learning all the different things — how we do things, how we run routes — and the repetition and workload that you get in this offense playing those positions. But you see that every single day, they’re getting better — and they’ll be vital parts of this team throughout the season.”
And Mahomes flatly denied that the rookies are getting the short end of the stick — at least from him.
“I treat them just like anyone else,” he insisted. “I go through my reads [and] I try to make the throws at the right areas at the right time. And we try to build that chemistry and be on that same page. I think the best part of training camp is that Coach Reid challenges us to do that.
“And if I throw a ball and we’re barely off — it’s incomplete, or whatever it is — I go talk to those guys and tell them exactly how I want it [run] and how Coach Reid wants it [run]. And they get it done the next time. That’s all you can ask from a young guy.”
Still... with wideout Sammy Watkins gone in free agency, there has been plenty of speculation about which of the veteran wide receivers will end up getting most of the targets that Watkins is leaving behind. But Mahomes said he isn’t worried.
“I think the fact that those guys have been around for a while helps out a ton,“ he said. “A lot of the guys that are kind of in that role that Sammy was playing last year are guys that have been in and out of the lineup or the starting rotation for the last couple of years. So having guys like Byron Pringle, Demarcus Robinson, Mecole Hardman, Marcus Kemp, Gehrig Dieter — all those guys — in there making those plays and trying to fill that void the best they can is something I have comfort with.”
Despite Mahomes’ optimism, there are still plenty of questions to be answered about the Kansas City offense. So it’s completely fair to be concerned about what we’ll see when the Chiefs play the 49ers on Saturday night in California. Despite its 6-10 record last season, San Francisco boasted a good pass defense — and a very good pass rush.
But as we’ve come to expect, Mahomes said he’s actually excited about playing them.
“The 49ers have a great defense,” he acknowledged. “A lot of great pass rushers, a lot of great guys that are still from that Super Bowl team. So it will be a great challenge for us — and we’re excited to go out there and play against a defense of that caliber.”