KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The differences between Patrick Mahomes and Alex Smith are undeniable, one of them an up-and-coming quarterback with a big arm and little experience, the other the consummate game manager whose ability to avoid mistakes has served him well over the years.
There are also some similarities, though.
“Very businesslike,” Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce said. “Alex liked to have a lot of fun in the locker room as well. That’s why he’s an All-Pro in terms of one of my favorite teammates I’ve ever had. I think Pat is very similar, where he understands football but likes to go out and have fun.”
Here’s another similarity the Chiefs would like to see between their current quarterback and his predecessor: Smith finished his time in Kansas City having beaten the Chargers eight straight times.
That’s the opponent for the start of the Mahomes era on Sunday.
The Chiefs traded Smith to Washington in the offseason after getting a glimpse of Mahomes in Week 17 last year, when he dazzled in his starting debut against Denver.
The Chiefs’ playoff positioning had been wrapped up and most of the starters got the day off, but Mahomes nevertheless put on a show against the Broncos’ starting defense in a come-from-behind road win.
Mahomes thinks that experience, combined with a year spent working side-by-side with Smith, will serve him well when he leads the Chiefs into their season opener.
“Having the preseason games helped,” he said. “Being able to start off with those games and then having that Denver game last year and seeing where I need to be at with my emotions and at the same time play with a lot of passion is something that will help me going into this one.”
Did it feel any different walking into the practice facility this week as the No. 1 quarterback?
“Not necessarily,” Mahomes said. “I get to compete and play a sport that I love. I get to play with a lot of guys I have built great relationships with. So I am going to just go out there and have fun and hopefully win a football game.”
If that sounds like a starter wise beyond his years, well, that’s because in many ways Mahomes has been groomed for this moment since his childhood. His father, Pat Mahomes, spent 11 years in the major leagues, and his boy spent quite a few of those years bouncing around the clubhouse.
He understands the pressures and responsibilities of being a professional athlete.
“I haven’t seen any nerves. I know he’s excited to play. I think the whole team is,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said.
“Probably both teams are, to get out of camp and get this thing going. He is excited. I haven’t seen anything that would tell you he’s nervous. He’s a pretty confident kid in his ability and I think he just wants to get going and play the game.”
Fans in Kansas City may be even more eager to see Mahomes on the field.
They’ve waited an entire generation for the Chiefs to draft a quarterback in the first round, and see him develop into the clear starter. The last to do so was Todd Blackledge, who flamed out after he was selected in 1983 — the same draft that produced John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino.
Starters since then have ranged from Steve DeBerg and Dave Krieg to Joe Montana, who was on the downward side of his illustrious career. There was Steve Bono and Elvis Grbac, and Damon Huard and Tyler Thigpen, and a four-year stretch under Matt Cassel marked by mediocrity at best.
When it comes to expectations for Mahomes, the floor is mediocrity.
The ceiling? A championship.
The march toward that begins when the Chiefs visit the Chargers on Sunday.
“Probably walking off the field hopefully with a win would be the best moment I am looking forward to,” Mahomes said. “Hopefully we can go out there and compete on every aspect, every side of the ball — offense, defense, special teams — and come out with the win.”
Notes: Safety Eric Berry (heel) did not practice Thursday, making it even more unlikely that he plays against the Chargers. Berry is still considered day to day, but he has been out since early in training camp. “We’ve kept great communication with him,” Reid said. “We’ll just see how it goes.”
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