Why Patrick Mahomes' potential has energized Andy Reid

Chiefs coach Andy Reid might not come out and say it directly, but those around him say they see a new excitement level thanks to Patrick Mahomes. AP Photo/Charlie Riede

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs held a party for their season-ticket holders shortly before the start of training camp this year and the gathering turned into an impromptu pep rally when coach Andy Reid stepped forward to speak.

Firing up the masses is generally not Reid's way. He's usually even-keeled to the point that sometimes after a game it's difficult to tell from his demeanor whether the Chiefs won or lost.

This is no ordinary season for the 60-year-old, though. He has Patrick Mahomes moving into the starting spot at quarterback. Mahomes won't be the first talented quarterback to cross paths with Reid, who has also coached Alex Smith in Kansas City and Donovan McNabb with the Philadelphia Eagles.

But Mahomes might be the best fit for Reid and perhaps the one best suited to eventually provide him the Super Bowl title that has eluded him during 19 seasons as an NFL head coach.

"He's more excited than I've seen him in a long time," said Chiefs president Mark Donovan, who has worked with Reid for the past five years in Kansas City and before that with the Philadelphia Eagles. "It's not only about Pat. You put Sammy Watkins out there [with] Tyreek [Hill], [Travis] Kelce, Kareem [Hunt]. … If you're an offensive coordinator with the mind that he has and the creativity he likes to bring to the game, that gets you excited.

"The excitement that was in that room [when Reid spoke] is something that matters. … It's different, [and] you feel it."

This sense about Reid extends beyond those who work with him on a daily basis.

"I know he's excited about the team he has," said McNabb, who added that he stays in touch with his former coach. "He liked Alex Smith. He led them to the AFC West championship and also the playoffs. But there's something about having a young quarterback with potential. Patrick Mahomes can make off-schedule plays. That's a dimension to the offense that Andy hasn't had in a while."

Even Reid acknowledged that he has a different sense of anticipation about this season.

"You have new," Reid said, speaking to the change not only at quarterback but elsewhere on the Chiefs' roster. "There's more new, on both sides of the ball. Some of the old guys that have been here aren't here. Whether it's the quarterback position, the inside linebacker position, the outside linebacker position, you're missing a few of those guys and you have new guys coming in that you have an opportunity to see perform. Some of them we haven't seen. … That's exciting to me. I'm looking forward to that."

Reid won't be pinned down to the idea that his excitement is tied to having Mahomes as his quarterback. A big fan of Smith's, he's fearful anything he says could come off as disrespect to his former quarterback.

Others will say it for him, though.

"There are some concepts and throws that Pat is really built for, deep overs and all that kind of stuff," general manager Brett Veach said. "Back in Philadelphia, when we had DeSean [Jackson] and Jeremy [Maclin], we used to go just bombs away. You saw a little bit more of that last year, but over the years he really pulled back on those kind of play concepts because it wasn't really to Alex's strengths.

"Coach is a very aggressive playcaller, and there are certain concepts that he feels like with some of the speed we have now with Sammy and Tyreek and then the arm strength Pat has, he gets a little excited thinking about the possibilities."

Reid hasn't had a young quarterback with the potential of Mahomes since the Eagles drafted McNabb in 1999, also Reid's first season in Philadelphia. Together over 11 seasons, the two won 92 games and five NFC East titles, but not the Super Bowl.

Since then, Reid has gone mostly with veteran quarterbacks such as Michael Vick in Philadelphia and Smith with the Chiefs. Again, he's had plenty of regular-season success but not much in the playoffs.

He's going back to his roots in that respect with Mahomes, a cleaner canvas who requires him to do a lot of teaching.

If anything, Reid is a teacher. Before he signed with the Chiefs, Reid asked to be relieved of many of the personnel duties he had assumed in his later years with the Eagles so he could have more time for the part of coaching that he loves the most.

"He was always teaching, always," said Chiefs quarterback coach Mike Kafka, who played briefly for Reid in Philadelphia. "Every single play presents something new and is an opportunity to get better, whether that's with footwork, ball placement, accuracy, ballhandling. There are always the little things to focus on and work on. Andy stresses that on every play, no matter if it's a completion or an incompletion, a touchdown or an interception. There was always something better you could have done on every play. He takes that mentality into the quarterback room no matter who the players are."

In Mahomes, he has an eager pupil. A baseball player of note when he was younger, Mahomes was late getting into football. He started 29 games in college at Texas Tech but played in the spread offense, leaving him much to learn about an NFL passing game. When he arrived with the Chiefs as their first-round pick last year, he had trouble spitting out playcalls in the huddle because it was something he had rarely been asked to do.

"Coach Reid really exposes us and makes sure we're prepared for everything," Mahomes said. "That's something where last year I didn't get to go through some of those situations when Alex was going through them. But now I'll be able to go through and make sure I'm prepared for everything."

The Chiefs were a good landing place for Mahomes for a number of reasons. He had a rookie season to adjust to the NFL game without the pressure of having to play, for one. The biggest might have been the presence of Reid, whom Mahomes' agent, Leigh Steinberg, called a "noted quarterback whisperer."

"I've represented probably 120 quarterbacks over these 44 years and seen careers shortened by the quarterback development curve being rushed," Steinberg said. "Nothing could have been better for Pat than sitting and watching. Kansas City was perfect for him: stable ownership, smart front office, gifted coaching, a head coach who had developed a number of quarterbacks, a team that was already winning and the opportunity to learn behind a wily, winning, talented veteran quarterback.

"We were thrilled that it was Kansas City. There are so many situations he could have gone into that were less than desirable. It was like a marriage made in heaven that it worked out the way it worked out."

McNabb, who has been where Mahomes is now, agreed.

"Patrick Mahomes couldn't ask for a better coach to get drafted by. Andy's not a guy who runs his offense like a dictator who won't change the offense because it's worked for him in the past. Andy knows what's best for his quarterback, and he'll coach to [Mahomes'] strengths and what the strengths are of the team. He adjusts every year depending on what he has to work with.

"There's a lot of pressure on [Mahomes'] shoulders right now, but Andy will put him in the best position possible to be successful. I think you'll start to see Kareem Hunt get more involved in the screen game. You'll see Travis Kelce be more involved in the screen game and be more of a security blanket for Patrick to take some pressure off of him."

Mahomes' physical skills were the main reason the Chiefs traded up in the first round last season to draft him. He showed in his one start last season the ability to make a wide variety of throws, and his over-the-top throw to Tyreek Hill covering 69 yards during the preseason showed his unusually strong arm.

Reid also likes Mahomes' desire to learn and capacity to process the information.

"I've been lucky to have been around some Hall of Fame players," Reid said. "The one thing they wanted you to do as a coach is to give them one more thing to make them even greater than they were. … He's that way. He's attentive. He wants to know everything. You always hear that ‘sponge' term. That's kind of where he's at in his career right now.

"You'd hope for Pat this is the right situation. You try to make it that way. Then he's got to go play. That's what it comes down to. But the situation should be one where he can achieve. … He can't be in any better place than with the Kansas City Chiefs."

Drafting and developing a young quarterback is an unusual move for the Chiefs, who for most of their 58 seasons have gone with another team's castoff at the game's most important position.

Mahomes changes all of that. He is the fourth quarterback drafted by the franchise in the first round but the first one to get this kind of all-in commitment from the Chiefs.

Reid wouldn't have it any other way. His ability to identify and develop a young quarterback was part of the reason Reid was hired by Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt in 2013.

The Chiefs will start to see the results of this experiment on Sunday, when they begin the season against the Chargers in Los Angeles. Reid, through his demeanor if not his words, seems to know how it's going to turn out.

"Andy is a pretty even-keeled guy," Hunt said. "But watching him at practice during the [offseason], seeing him at training camp, talking to him, he's clearly excited about what this 2018 team can do. He knows he has a bunch of outstanding offensive players, and he's working on plugging Patrick Mahomes into that, hoping we can take the offense to another level and go get that trophy that we've been trying to get since Super Bowl IV.

"I'd say it's a bounce in his step. I know that's a hard thing to imagine when you're talking about Andy. But truly he seems energized. I think the thought of getting to take a young quarterback [and] mold him. … I think it's hard for him not to be excited. When you have a young quarterback, it's not like you're near the end of the journey. You're at the beginning, and it should only get better each year."