Unseasoned Superman: The Patrick Mahomes era begins in Kansas City

Berry not concerned with Mahomes' interception issues (1:02)

Matthew Berry keeps first-year starter Patrick Mahomes ranked as the 15th best fantasy QB even after eight interceptions in the span of seven practices. (1:02)

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- Andy Reid made an interesting and unusual statement last month on the eve of the Kansas City Chiefs' training camp, one that addressed the team's goals not just for 2018 but several seasons beyond.

"We're striving to win a championship," Reid said, "and then to consistently be in a position where we can win a championship as the years go on."

The Chiefs made several moves toward both of those ends during the offseason, but by far the most significant was their change at quarterback. They traded a trusted veteran in Alex Smith and replaced him with a largely untested player, but one full of potential, in Patrick Mahomes.

Kansas City's Mahomes era begins with Thursday night's preseason opener against the Houston Texans at Arrowhead Stadium, though he and the rest of the starters might play only a series or two.

The anointing of Mahomes is unlike any the Chiefs have ever made. The franchise had drafted only three quarterbacks in the first round before taking Mahomes with the 10th overall pick last year, but never committed to any as them as their long-term solution at the most important position on the field.

For many of their 58 seasons, the Chiefs have gone with other teams' discards at quarterback. This includes Smith, who was acquired in 2013 in a trade with the San Francisco 49ers.

This time, the Chiefs are all in on Mahomes. It's his job, for better or for worse.

They're excited to have a quarterback of uncommon ability but are also expecting to suffer through some of the mistakes that young QBs inevitably make.

"There's going to be a growing process here," general manager Brett Veach said. "I know the expectations are through the roof but if anybody can handle them, Pat can. I was talking with [Reid] about some of the expectations and I said, 'You'd rather have a talented quarterback and [high] expectations than have a quarterback that's not talented and no expectations.'

"People will expect Superman from Week 1 and there will be games where you'll be scratching your head. But the thing about Pat and how he's wired and how great a coach Coach Reid is and our offensive staff, you just know it's going to click. I don't know if it will click Week 1, Week 4 or Week 5, but it's going to click."

The Chiefs traded up 17 spots in the first round last year to draft Mahomes, relinquishing their 2018 first-round pick in the process. The plan all along was to have him spend his rookie season on the bench as Smith's apprentice.

The Chiefs believe Mahomes benefited from a season with low expectations. He played only in the season's final regular-season game in Denver, where he led the Chiefs to a winning field goal on the final play.

"I would say he's right on schedule," Veach said. "It was an unbelievable setup to have Alex here. [Mahomes] couldn't have learned from a better player and a better person and a better pro than Alex. To come in here with all the pressure of being the starter with no experience would have been extremely tough. Now he has all the pressure but at least he has a year of experience and a year of learning from Alex Smith."

The game in Denver convinced the Chiefs that Mahomes was ready to be the full-time starter. They traded Smith to Washington shortly after the playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans.

In that regular season finale, Mahomes not only threw for 284 yards and took the Chiefs to the winning points but showed a veteran's grasp of the game plan and how to prepare to be the starter. That's when he won over his teammates, who had seen his ability in practice but weren't certain how he would take to being the starter.

"That kind of solidified his status [in the locker room] and his ability to lead a team," offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. "There was definitely a huge progression from the preseason when he was playing to Week 17.

"He's got a natural calmness to him, whether that's just him being a special person or growing up around sports and athletes and understanding that. He didn't get intimidated by the moment and that's something you want to see on the road in Denver."

Mahomes called the chance to be a starting quarterback in the NFL "something you dream of as a kid" but the job so far hasn't proved too big for him. The Chiefs have heaped the hefty load of their playbook on Mahomes -- as Reid tends to do with his quarterbacks -- and he hasn't buckled.

He also stepped comfortably into their huddle while replacing the popular Smith.

"The thing I feel like he's done the best is basically encouraging guys even when he's down or even when he doesn't have a great sequence of plays," guard Cam Erving said. "He makes sure he's pushing other guys [by saying], 'We've got to make it happen.' I feel that's one of the things that's going to separate Pat from a lot of people."

Mahomes has been uneven in training camp to this point. He has delivered some big plays but also has thrown several interceptions.

"I got a lot of work, built a lot of good chemistry with those receivers," Mahomes said. "I think that's a huge deal. We're on the same page on every coverage, it seems like. As we go into the season, that stuff is going to be vital."

The Chiefs in recent seasons haven't had to deal with a high number of turnovers from their starting quarterback. Smith was always among the NFL's best in interception percentage. He threw five picks last year in 505 pass attempts.

Turnovers are part of what comes with a young quarterback and the Chiefs are content for now to help Mahomes work through the issue. They might be willing to accept an additional turnover or two in exchange for more big pass plays, something the strong-armed Mahomes is equipped to deliver.

"You surely don't want to stifle [him] at all," Reid said. "The one thing he's blessed with is that he has good vision. You don't ever want to stifle that and put him in a box with that. Allow him to see [plays developing]. Is there going to be a hiccup here or there? Yeah. There's going to be a hiccup here or there."

Mahomes on a recent day in practice had three such hiccups. One of the interceptions came with the Chiefs inside the 20. Mahomes had a lane to run and could have scored the touchdown himself but instead threw the ball into traffic in the end zone.

"He had a few hiccups -- but that's a part of the process," offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said. "When you're young, you need those hiccups because they become valuable lessons.

"Would we like for him to be perfect? Yes. We would like for him to have the highest passer rating ever. But he just needs to be poised under pressure. He's doing a good job of getting the calls out. But at the end of the day when something happens, don't worry about it. Let's play the next play."

Interceptions and all, the Chiefs are committed to Mahomes in a way they've never been to one of their own drafted quarterbacks. Their three previous first-round draft picks -- Pete Beathard in 1964, Steve Fuller in 1979 and Todd Blackledge in 1983 -- started a total of 57 games in 14 collective seasons in Kansas City.

After all this time, the Chiefs are trying again with a young quarterback. They're more determined this time to see it through to a more satisfying conclusion.

"If you can develop your own quarterback who can play at the top of the league you create an opportunity over the course of a decade to win a championship," Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said. "That's what we're hoping that Patrick Mahomes does for us."