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Thursday training camp notebook: Patrick Mahomes has ‘mastered’ protections

Kansas City offensive coordinator Matt Nagy says the quarterback is on another level mentally.

Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

At this time in 2017, Matt Nagy was in his first season as the Kansas City Chiefs’ sole offensive coordinator, preparing starting quarterback Alex Smith for another playoff run. Nagy was also responsible for developing rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes, for whom the team had just traded up to select in the first round of the draft.

Nagy essentially succeeded at both of his tasks: Smith had his best statistical season in Kansas City — and Mahomes became... well, Mahomes.

The following offseason, Nagy was hired as the Chicago Bears’ head coach, thereby missing his first opportunity to coach Mahomes as a starter. Now, however — a full year after returning as the Chiefs’ quarterbacks coach — he’s once again serving as the offensive coordinator, continuing to teach the superstar he once helped mold from a ball of clay during training camp at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph.

“There was a lot that we worked on with him as a rookie,” Nagy remembered while speaking to reporters after Thursday’s training camp practice. “[from] his footwork and stance under center to his verbal cadence of calling a play; he did so much no-huddle [in college]. Those are the easier parts of the game.”

“Being in practice, he would always stay back when Alex was running a play. He would always be back there doing the footwork for the play — whether it [was] a handoff, drop back, etc. Then, of course, [in] that game against Denver, you saw him put it into action.

“He is wired the right way. He has rare DNA — and it’s all coming out right now.”

NFL: AUG 07 Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The man that was there in the very beginning now gets to see (and refine) the skills Mahomes has improved upon since 2017 — starting with an essential one: protections. As a rookie, Mahomes understood little about the calls he could make to protect himself.

“Now where he’s at,” said Nagy, “he’s really, really good with protections — understanding what defenses are throwing at him. These defensive coordinators are really good. They like to throw a lot of different looks at you — [to] change the back end pre-snap. If you’re not protected, you can’t throw.

“[Mahomes] has mastered that. But he wants to be even better. He has always had the physical traits to throw and run — but [on] the mental side [with] protections, he is really at another level. It frustrates him when he doesn’t get it right.”

Coming into his seventh NFL season, any quarterback would be likely to have a better understanding of pass protection rules — but when an incredible playmaker can also be disciplined within the structure of a passing play, those rules essentially become cheat codes.

Still, there’s always room for improvement — and this is where the Chiefs gain an advantage by continuing to have a veteran as their backup quarterback. Blaine Gabbert — whose last job was backing up Tom Brady with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — was signed for 2023. It appears that the former Mizzou quarterback may have picked up a thing or two from Brady about pass protections — and Mahomes has been willing to listen.

“It’s just high-level football conversations that we have,” Gabbert told reporters on Thursday. “[about] how Tom saw the game and how Patrick sees the game.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to [play with] both of those guys now. I’m still building that relationship with Patrick, but Tom and I had a great one over the last three years.

“I’m just trying to bring ideas to both sides of the table — and ultimately help Patrick be better than he already is. He’s a phenomenal player right now. But he is kind of an open book — an open mind — wanting to see how others play the game.”

Mahomes’ best trait may be his receptiveness — with which both Gabbert and Nagy have been impressed. While it has been a driving force behind his ascension to being the NFL’s best player, it is also one of the reasons the 27-year-old quarterback continues to get better.


Our Pete Sweeney was at Thursday’s practice. You can find his complete observations from Thursday’s practice here.

Post-practice chat and press conferences

If you can’t see the above (Apple iTunes) embed, click here. The press conference is also available on Spotify.

Injury report

  • Did not practice (due to injury): DE Mike Danna (calf injured on 7/28), TE Jody Fortson (right shoulder injured on 7/28), DL Charles Omenihu (calf injured on 8/2) CB L’Jarius Sneed (knee swelling on 7/31), CB Reese Taylor (hamstring injured on 8/2), WR Kadarius Toney (knee injured on 7/23), LB Drue Tranquill (strained neck on 7/28)
  • Limited: RB Isiah Pacheco (hand, labrum), P Tommy Townsend (right leg)

Tweet of the day

Our John Dixon compiled all of Thursday’s tweets here. Here is the tweet of the day:

Quote of the day

Chiefs backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert, walking up to the podium and seeing writers in the front and cameras in the back: “Business in the front, party in the back, huh!?”

What’s next?

The Chiefs return to the field on Friday morning for their 11th full-team training camp practice. The workout begins at 9:15 a.m. Arrowhead Time. Head coach Andy Reid will address the media following the practice as quarterbacks, running backs and specialists sign autographs. Here’s the complete 2023 training camp schedule.

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