When things kick off between the Kansas City Chiefs and Arizona Cardinals on Sunday afternoon, quarterback Patrick Mahomes will be throwing to players he never has before in a regular-season game.
Wide receivers like JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling will see the most snaps at their position despite limited experience together (remember, Smith-Schuster did not get a preseason target from Mahomes).
Tight end Travis Kelce is still in Kansas City, representing the target Mahomes will naturally lean on the most in crucial situations. The chemistry they’ve built together is a weapon, but opposing defenses know that, too. Opposing defenses may emphasize defending Kelce even more this year, testing the newcomers in the receiving corps.
If the ball is spread around more — as Mahomes expressed in his Thursday press conference — Kelce doesn’t see it as much of a transition for his quarterback.
“I always felt that Pat was very good at getting the ball around to other guys,” Kelce told reporters after practice on Friday. “Obviously with a guy like Tyreek [Hill], you can have a lot of trust in a guy like that to make big plays — especially in big-time moments, like he has in the past.”
Kelce believes it’s mainly about Mahomes and the offensive coaching staff working in concert.
“It’s just finding that rhythm with the intentions of the play caller, what we’re seeing on defense, and going from there. Just trusting the guys that are in the positions, which I have faith in — the new faces that we have.”
Besides the two starting receivers, the Chiefs have two more new pieces at wide receiver: Justin Watson or rookie Skyy Moore. Watson has built impressive chemistry with Mahomes in the preseason while Moore has seen limited opportunities with the starting quarterback.
That might indicate how the lineup shakes out right away, which Kelce hinted at with his response to a question about coaching up the newcomers on offense.
“The new faces that we have are all veteran guys,” Kelce described. “They’ve been in that action, they’ve played in big-time games, they’ve been big-time players in big-time games. I don’t think we really need to say anything like that.”
The mental exclusion of Moore may be telling for how involved he’ll be in the offense right away.
Kelce went on to recognize the first-year contributors on the defensive side of the ball, sounding confident in who will guide them when they’re on the field.
“There are some rookies on the defensive side that just haven’t had a glimpse of what the NFL feels like, but we have a lot of leaders on that side of the ball,” Kelce declared. “[We] got a lot of playmakers up front that are going to make it easier on the younger guys to just fall in line and do their job. Just fly around and make plays, that’s the biggest thing. You keep that energy up, you’re living out your childhood dream to be able to go out here. It’s an exciting time.”
The more things change, the more things stay the same — and one thing that the team can still feel is the target on their backs. Your favorite national media pundit may love the Buffalo Bills or Los Angeles Chargers, but the Chiefs recognize that those AFC foes are all just gunning for them.
Kelce wouldn’t want it any other way.
“With our success, I think a lot of teams circle us on their schedule — but that’s what you want,” Kelce assured. “If you’re not answering the bell every single week, why are we out there? I’m trying to be the best on every single play, in every single game. It’s not new to me to feel like everyone is ready for my best shot... there’s nothing new here. There’s a few new faces that are going to get a glimpse of that if they haven’t already had that in their career.”
The target on their backs will only fuel this team to continue its reign on the division, and take back its seat at the top of the conference. There may be new faces helping the old faces do that this year, but a veteran like Kelce feels good about what the whole unit has in store.