KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Louis Riddick was watching the recent NFL draft with fellow ESPN analyst Jon Gruden when the Kansas City Chiefs traded up in the first round to select a quarterback, Patrick Mahomes II of Texas Tech.
Riddick and Gruden exchanged a knowing look. Chiefs coach Andy Reid was at long last at it again.
The addition of Mahomes gave Reid a first-round talent to work with at quarterback for the first time since 1999, when he coached the Philadelphia Eagles and drafted Donovan McNabb. That could turn out to be a good thing not just for Reid and the Chiefs, but Mahomes as well.
“Patrick Mahomes should be thanking his lucky stars he went to the Chiefs," said Riddick, a former personnel director for both the Eagles and Washington.
Riddick feels that way in large part because of Reid and his touch in developing quarterbacks. He worked with Brett Favre as quarterbacks coach of the Packers. Reid’s first QB project as head coach, McNabb, played 11 seasons for the Eagles and was selected to participate in six Pro Bowls.
With Reid as their coach, the Eagles three times drafted in a lower round a quarterback who would eventually go on to become a starter, whether for Philadelphia or another team. Michael Vick had the best season of his NFL career playing for Reid and the Eagles in 2010 after he sat out two seasons because of his involvement in a dog-fighting scheme.
So Riddick wasn’t the only one to believe the work marriage of Reid and Mahomes will be a good one for all parties.
“I was a better player [because of] Andy Reid," McNabb said. “Andy’s worked with a lot of quarterbacks, but the thing that’s important is that they all have different styles. Myself. Brett Favre with the Green Bay Packers. He changed Alex Smith’s career since he’s been in Kansas City. Then there were a lot of young guys he had with the Eagles, even an older player like Michael Vick. He was really able to show Mike how to play the game. If he had him early in his career, he would have been a different type of Michael Vick. Mike would have been a great quarterback that way. Mike told me one time he wished he’d had Andy for his coach his whole career.
“He has the ability to work with different types of quarterbacks. He’s going to build around his quarterback and create his offense around his talent. With Andy, it’s not what’s worked for him when he’s had different players over the years. It’s what will work with the quarterback he has now."
Reid wasted little time in starting his work with Mahomes. He frequently interrupted practice during a recent Chiefs rookie camp to have a word or two with his new quarterback.
“It is extremely exciting," Mahomes said of working with Reid. “He’s a coach you know is going to coach you well and you know is going to get the best out of you. You can come in every single day knowing he is going to push you and make you the best quarterback you can possibly be is something you always want.
“It speaks for itself. You watch guys that he’s been with: Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb, just to name a few, guys that just really developed and became great quarterbacks in the league. It’s a coach you want to be with.”
The Chiefs will have to wait for their payoff. They remain committed to Smith as their starting quarterback for the time being, and that won’t likely change within the next season or two as long as they keep winning.
But they’re willing to wait.
“Right now, Patrick is not absolutely ready to play," Reid said. “He’s got some work to do, but he’s coming into a great room. He gets an opportunity to learn from Alex Smith, which will be a phenomenal experience for him and learn the offense. So we have to be patient with him. Definitely, not a finished product right now, but he has tremendous upside. We think he’ll fit into this offense very well. He’s a good person. He’s intelligent.
“He’s got great skill, and I just think he’ll be a great Kansas City Chief when it’s all said and done.”
Mahomes played in a spread offense at Texas Tech so his transition to the NFL is immense. Calling the plays -- they came from the sideline at Texas Tech -- and taking the snap from center -- he worked almost exclusively from the shotgun -- are among the basics that Mahomes will have to learn.
“It starts in the classroom, first and foremost," said Riddick, who worked with Reid with the Eagles for six seasons. “He puts a lot of demands on the preparation that the quarterbacks must undergo. He expects them to understand what everybody is doing on the football field and in great detail. Obviously you have to have a tremendous football mind in order to play the game at a high level for him. I think that’s standard across the NFL now.
“But there’s a difference between talking football with a young player and inundating him with a lot of technical jargon and the other level where you can get them to transfer that to the football field. That’s what Andy is so good at. Everything from the stance under center to the initial footwork away from center to balance at the top of the drops to how your weight gets transferred to where our eyes go to how you hold the ball and where you hold the ball to what your follow through should look like to movement outside the pocket and how to get the shoulders square. Everything is very meticulous. Everything is very insistent."
Reid and the Eagles drafted quarterback A.J. Feeley in the fifth round in 2001. He was forced into the starting lineup for five games the next year because of an injury to McNabb.
“There’s an aura about Andy that’s hard to describe," said Feeley, who was traded to the Miami Dolphins in 2004. “He’s not a big talker, but he asks a lot of questions. With me, when I first started to play, he only gave me things he thought I was good at and that he thought we’d be successful at. He didn’t just throw me out there and tell me to make things happen. That takes a lot of stress off a quarterback’s shoulders. He played to my strengths and once he realized how comfortable I was becoming and that I could do more things, he started to open up the playbook accordingly.
“As a quarterback, there are certain variables that go into your ability to be successful. One of the major ones is the offense you run and the guy calling the plays. So [Mahomes] is already ahead of the game being [in Kansas City] compared to a lot of the other quarterbacks who were drafted."
McNabb became a starter for the Eagles midway through his rookie season, putting him ahead of the schedule the Chiefs have planned for Mahomes. But McNabb got the same treatment from Reid that Mahomes can expect.
He recalled a play from practice early in his rookie season.
“I went to the line and was reading the defense, and I could see a corner was all over my No. 1 read," McNabb said. “I remember thinking that it was going to be on me to make a play. I made a couple of pass-rushers miss and kind of scrambled around, threw a deep ball down the field. Andy came back and said, ‘Hey, that was a great play, but that’s not what we’re trying to do here.’
“For a young guy, I thought I just made a miraculous play, something I used to do in college. But then we went back later and analyzed the play, Andy showed me there were two guys open on the play, the No. 2 and No. 3 receivers in the progression. What he was telling me was not to feel like I had to make every play. He was telling me there would be opportunities for that in the offense if every receiver and running back was guarded.
“That will happen to [Mahomes]. He’ll make a great play, and he’ll high-five with teammates, and they’ll be excited, but then he’ll go back and watch the film and see he missed the No. 2 and the No. 3 reads. Andy will have something to say to him about that."
Reid’s record says Mahomes will become a better player for that and the other lessons he learns from his new head coach.
“The guys who Andy taught, whether that’s Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb, Doug Pederson, all of them will tell you they’re better quarterbacks because of what he taught them and how he taught them," Riddick said. “Donovan McNabb had a great career, and that’s not by accident. Obviously Donovan had a lot of talent, but it’s also because of what he was taught. Michael Vick came back into the league playing for Andy and took his game to a different level. He didn’t become a better player by sitting out all that time.
“So as long as Andy is there, Patrick Mahomes is in a great situation. He has a great shot to be a special, special player. If he can get it pointed in the right direction, he has what it takes to take the Chiefs offensively to another level. That’s not to be disrespectful to Alex Smith in any way. But it is what it is.
“It won’t be because of Andy if Mahomes doesn’t get there."