Throughout the 2022 offseason, it’s been difficult to consume any Kansas City Chiefs news without mention of departed wide receiver Tyreek Hill. How will the quarterback Patrick Mahomes continue to produce without his No. 1 wide receiver? Can he produce without him?
The real answers to these questions will begin to be revealed when the Chiefs take the field against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday afternoon — this time, without Hill, Byron Pringle, Demarcus Robinson, Darrel Williams (and others), but joined by new additions like Marquez Valdes-Scantling, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Ronald Jones and Isiah Pacheco.
“I’m looking forward to seeing everybody play together for a full game,” head coach Andy Reid told Kansas City reporters on Wednesday. “You just get a taste of it during preseason.”
Reid said that Mahomes has taken all the changes in stride.
“When we lost the receivers that we lost,” he noted, “he was excited, first of all, to get the new guys: Who was he going to have here? And then to take it and run with it once we signed them — literally take them to where he lives — and get going.”
Reid was referring to Mahomes inviting all of his pass-catchers to Texas during the first phase of the offseason program — which turned out to be a valuable experience for all the new players.
“He was very excited to get them in and get them going,” recalled Reid. “And that’s what he did.”
Thanks to that experience, Smith-Schuster said that he’s been developing chemistry with Mahomes — just like with tight end Travis Kelce — at a fast pace.
“I’ve been doing that for quite some time now,” he said. “Pat and Travis have their chemistry and how they do their little thing; I’m just learning as I go. Throughout camp and throughout OTAs — and even now, throughout the week — I’ve learned that.”
The former Pittsburgh Steelers wideout says in Kansas City, it is an important skill — because Mahomes’ receivers are expected to be able to improvise.
“We’re not robots,” he explained. “We’re not just running what the script says — what the little lines say. At the end of the day, we’ve got to run to get open. And that’s what we’re doing.”
His new quarterback said that’s part of the advantage of having veteran players like Valdes-Scantling, Smith-Schuster and Jones on the roster: they already know how to work with a very good, veteran quarterback.
“I think the biggest thing [about players] coming from quarterbacks like that — especially when they’ve played for a long time and been great for a long time,” observed the quarterback, “is they understand how to do stuff the way the quarterback wants it done. I mean, not like it’s drawn up on paper.
“All three of those guys — whenever you tell them something — they make sure to make that adjustment in their routes. They know that’s kind of what they’ve dealt with their entire career.”
According to Mahomes, that’s not something you see in every veteran receiver.
“Sometimes when you get guys from other places, they just run the route like it’s supposed to be run,” he said. “But these guys have a great understanding of not only running the route, but understanding the coverage as they’re running it — and how it affects everybody.”
The end result is expected to be an offense that will be extremely unpredictable.
“I think there’s going to be like a different player every single game that has the big game,” claimed Mahomes. “It’s not going to be just necessarily Tyreek and Travis every single week, where it’s like one of the other is having a big game — or both. It’s going to be every single week, it’s going to be someone different.”
And then Mahomes smiled.
“So I’m sorry to all you fantasy football guys, because they’re going to come from everywhere. So you’re going to have to choose the right guy every week.”
Smith-Schuster echoed his quarterback.
“Just know that everyone’s going to be everywhere,” he said. “Everyone’s going to be at every position — inside, outside, you name it. There’s just going to be a lot of things that a lot of people are going to see in Week 1 and be, ‘Wow. OK. That’s what the Chiefs are.’”
But Reid was careful to note that like any other team in any other season, his team will continue to be a work in progress.
“Every week tells you kind of a new story,” marveled the veteran coach, who is now the only head coach in NFL history to win at least 100 games for two different teams. “Are you going to continue to progress? Where do you plateau? If you take some dips, how do you handle those?
“So that’s what seasons present you. And you’ve got to work through all of that. If you haven’t gone through it with some guys — or the chemistry of all the guys together, working — how’s that going to take? Well... we’ll see.
“That’s what’s so unique about it: every year’s a little bit different in how they go about it — and you’re excited for that part, to see how it all unfolds.”
But despite being known as a player who never misses an opportunity to remind people that he has been underrated in the press, Mahomes denied that he will enter the season being motivated by offseason rankings that placed him behind competing quarterbacks like Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow.
“I think you should be motivated every year,” he reminded reporters. “In this league, everybody starts at zero. Everybody has a chance to go out there and win the Super Bowl. If you don’t have that motivation every single year to win the AFC West, to win the AFC and then to win the Super Bowl, then you’re in the wrong profession.”
By that standard, Smith-Schuster fits right in with his new quarterback.
“I came here for a reason,” he insisted. “I came here to win. I came to win the Super Bowl.”
Wherever it will finally end, that journey (finally) begins on Sunday.