An August debut in the NFL is not truly a debut. It is an exhibition.
So then, Patrick Mahomes will have an opportunity to excite Chiefs fans — sorry, kingdom just never appealed to me — all over again with another premiere.
Even if it’s just a cameo, it will be on a real stage. Not the preseason variety that allowed Mahomes to throw an improvised touchdown strike Friday as the Chiefs fell 27-17 to the San Francisco 49ers in Arrowhead Stadium.
Considerable intrigue still exists. No one really knows when Mahomes will actually enter a regular-season game. Kansas City coach Andy Reid has not yet decided if the first-round choice the Chiefs moved up 17 spots to draft will be designated as their primary backup.
When Mahomes makes his next debut, it’s for real.
Will he be ready? Depends on the situation.
If the outcome of a game hangs in the balance, a rookie quarterback is not the guy NFL teams usually want to trust in critical situations. Consider how many successful college teams rely on veteran QBs. NFL experience is even more vital.
No question, Mahomes brings a certifiable flair. There was the buzz created by the Chiefs moving up to take him. Complete with the Texas Tech highlight reel Mahomes compiled with his strong arm and elusive feet.
There was a level of swagger Mahomes brought into Friday’s performance. We watched every move, all the way down to how his mouthguard dangled as his helmet covered half his head on the sideline.
Any little mannerism he shows is being mimicked by kids who love the Chiefs. Adults play pretend by shelling out money for a replica No. 15 jersey Mahomes wears.
Still, the potential that adds to the popularity Mahomes enjoys as an NFL backup who has done no wrong must be nurtured. The deep throw he completed before the end of the first half, which was wiped out by a holding penalty, was nice. The TD pass he lobbed across his body into the end zone was well-placed and showed his instincts.
Afterward, Mahomes referenced both enthusiasm stemming from his NFL debut and strides made in limited practices thus far.
“You are living out a dream. You are doing something you were imagining in back yards since you were a little kid,’’ he said. “You definitely were excited. There were a lot of fast players, fast guys out there. I feel like with the defense I’ve been going against, our defense, we’ve had those guys out there too.’’
Better defenders playing as first-stringers for better opponents can, potentially, break up the TD pass Mahomes completed as his third read.
Which is why the rookie must be developed with some degree of care and caution. Instincts must be preserved while mistakes are minimized, so his confidence is not shattered.
If Mahomes is to be the primary backup, he needs preseason chances to execute the first-string offense. He deserves that opportunity just to connect with Tyreek Hill, the deep threat Chiefs starter Alex Smith found with a 32-yard sideline strike on the first snap against the Niners.
That call was made because Hill is going to be a featured performer this year in the KC offense.
Also, that call was made because Mahomes has the arm to capitalize on Hill’s speed if Smith fails.
Not only will this season be a time for Mahomes to grow, it will also be a time for Smith to throw. Deep for once.
“I think that’s something we’re going to see a lot here in the regular season,’’ Chiefs owner Clark Hunt said during Friday’s telecast.
“There’s a real mentality among the quarterbacks. It’s something Andy and his staff have emphasized and it’s great to see the guys picking it up.’’
Mahomes’ presence, the first time a quarterback the Chiefs drafted in the opening round has been in camp since 1984, should elevate Smith’s game. If not, Mahomes is available to offer his own spark.
On his only possession Friday, Smith led the Chiefs to a quick touchdown. He hears the unmistakable buzz over Mahomes, and if it’s to Smith’s betterment, the Chiefs will improve too.
At least to the extent they won’t lose a playoff game against an opponent content to kick six field goals.
Contact Kevin Haskin at firstname.lastname@example.org or @KevinHaskin on Twitter.