KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive coordinator, Eric Bieniemy spends his time surveying multiple positions in practice, all so he can offer quiet criticism or praise later. It’s a far cry from his days as the Chiefs’ running backs coach, when his verbal prods became the stuff of legend in Kansas City.
While Bieniemy is no longer the on-field human bullhorn he used to be, that doesn’t mean his bark still doesn’t have some bite as star quarterback Patrick Mahomes experienced Tuesday.
That’s when Mahomes found himself on the receiving end of a lesson from Bieniemy, who spent a healthy portion of practice watching Mahomes take his dropbacks and didn’t like what he saw.
The 23-year-old star just completed a killer second season in which he threw for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns, and became the youngest league MVP since 1984 — yet that didn’t earn him a reprieve from sweating the small stuff during a routine offensive meeting.
“We had a talk about him not taking his footwork and his drops for granted in practice,” Bieniemy told Yahoo Sports. “I didn’t care about completions, I didn’t care about [receiver] drops, the only thing I wanted to see was how he handled his consistency with his drops in the pocket.
“And you know what? The very next day, you saw he was very conscious of it, and he went out there and was sound. He showed it. And it was impressive.”
This, Bieniemy says, is how a player improves on an MVP season that no one saw coming — by focusing on the details, a process coach Andy Reid and quarterback coach Mike Kafka are also prominently involved in.
That focus reared its head on social media earlier this week when his girlfriend posted a photo of Mahomes studying film and his playbook during a tornado warning in the K.C. area.
MVP Mahomes passes the time watching film with tornado warnings in KC— Bleacher Report NFL (@BR_NFL) May 29, 2019
(Via brittanylynne8/IG) pic.twitter.com/dfIUtA5mVU
“Are we challenging him? Yes, we are,” Bieniemy told Yahoo Sports on Thursday, after the Chiefs’ open OTA practice. “We’re challenging him in the classroom, we’re challenging him on the field.”
After the team came a few plays short of a Super Bowl in January against New England, Mahomes is still as willing to listen as ever. Besides, Mahomes knows that if he is going to hold teammates to a higher standard, he has to be coachable too, lest he be called a hypocrite — the easiest way to lose teammates’ respect in the NFL short of playing poorly, of course.
“Yes, you can coach Patrick hard,” Bieniemy said. “The only thing you have to tell him is, ‘Hey listen, here’s what I need you to do,’ and then it’s done.”
Still, there’s no doubt Mahomes’ MVP status helps him command more respect in the locker room and on the field.
“It affects you in a positive way — it definitely does,” receivers coach Greg Lewis, a longtime NFL receiver, told Yahoo Sports. “I mean, I got the opportunity to play with Brett Favre, who had been an MVP, and your name and presence holds that much more weight among your peers, and there’s respect in there because you’ve earned it.
“But with that comes a lot of responsibility and how you handle it, and Patrick has done a great job with it.”
There’s still so much room for improvement — especially as it relates to his pocket presence and footwork — regardless of the “Madden”-like numbers he posted last season.
“Asking him to go out there and do that again is like shooting for the stars,” Bieniemy said. “But he’s a competitive kid, and he takes a lot of pride in working at the little things, so the sky really is the limit.”
Proof that Mahomes is serious about reaching that potential came in the form of a quick correction to his footwork earlier this week, courtesy of a verbal prod from one of his senior coaches.
“We had that topic of discussion,” Bieniemy said with a laugh, “and haven’t had it since.”
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