ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — Awestruck fans fawn over Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
He’s becoming his own cottage industry after taking the NFL by storm last season, leading the team to its first home AFC Championship Game and winning MVP honors along the way.
Just don’t count Chiefs rookie wide receiver Mecole Hardman Jr. among the starstruck masses.
Mahomes may be on the cover of Madden 20, but Hardman isn’t focused on who’s throwing him passes at training camp.
“You can’t be out here having surreal moments,” Hardman said. “We’re out here and we’re all professionals and we’ve all got to play. I’ve got to catch the ball. He’s got to throw me the ball.”
Besides, with such a steep learning curve trying to digest coach Andy Reid’s notoriously dense playbook, Hardman doesn’t have time to worry about anything more than getting himself ready — for each day’s practice, for the preseason opener Saturday against Cincinnati at Arrowhead Stadium, for the Sept. 8 regular season opener at Jacksonville.
“If you’re out there being in ‘wow’ mode trying to catch balls from Pat, you’re not going to ever catch a ball from Pat, because you’re not going to ever be make the field,” Hardman said. “There’s no time for surreal. We’re all out here and know what jobs we’ve got to do, so we just get out here and work.”
That doesn’t mean Hardman hasn’t had any hiccups since being drafted in the second round out of the University of Georgia.
Hardman acknowledged the game is faster than college, “but other than that it’s football,” he said. “You play, you learn, you practice, you try to make it perfect. It’s all the same thing, just a little faster.”
Since rookie minicamp more than two months ago, Hardman said he’s grown exponentially and has “too much confidence.”
“The plays are coming easier,” Hardman said. “I’m hearing it out of the quarterback’s mouth easier. The checks are coming easier. When those come easier, I am able to play fast and play to my ability.”
He’s drawn fairly universal praise so far in camp, including more plaudits Monday from Reid.
“He’s a smart kid,” Reid said. “I think he was just getting used to the speed of the game and then, every route here, there’s no route that’s off — not with a quarterback like we have. So, you’ve got to run hard on everything. It might look like a clearing route, but you can’t take it that way. That’s not how it works.”
Hardman, who worked primarily from the slot in college, said he’s studying all three receiver positions and gaining comfort daily with the different roles and responsibilities.
He was a quarterback and defensive back in high school and started his college career on the defensive side of the ball before converting to wide receiver. That led to some concern about his route-running and relative inexperience at the position.
“(Chiefs general manager) Brett (Veach) had a good read on that,” Reid said. “He’s a good route-runner. Now, the things we’re asking him to do, some of those things he didn’t have to do (at Georgia). He was kind of their stretch guy down the field and the around guy, jet-sweep guy for them. We’re asking him to do all the short, intermediate stuff too (and) things over the middle. Some of that stuff’s new for him.”
A star kickoff and punt returner for the Bulldogs, Hardman is also working into the mix as a return specialist, including a nifty move to break free working the first team Monday during a punting drill.
“There’s definitely more workload — learning outside, inside, sometimes in the backfield,” Hardman said. “You’re moving around, so you just don’t know where you’re going to be.”
The creativity of Reid’s offense really keeps him on his toes, but he’s embraced and risen to the challenge.
While he may not be in awe of Mahomes, Hardman understands the importance of the relationship with his new quarterback — and he believes he’ll be ready to help the Chiefs remain the highest-scoring offense in the NFL in 2019.
“Our chemistry is growing,” Hardman said. “I’m starting to figure out where he wants me to be on the field. I think he’s starting to figure me out as a player, my speed, the things I like to do with my routes.”