When Matt Nagy talks about the development of a young quarterback, you’re compelled to listen.
The Chicago Bears’ coach has the credentials to lend the sort of insight that’s particularly relevant today, with conversation about the position in the NFL consumed by the progress – or lack thereof – of rookies and second-year players. Bears second-year starter Mitch Trubisky, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2017 draft, is making headway under the guidance Nagy has provided since taking over after last season. Of course, it’s a far cry from that of one of Nagy’s former pupils, Patrick Mahomes, who is tearing up the league in his second season with the Kansas City Chiefs.
In Buffalo, the QB talk is filled with uncertainty, mixed with doubt and plenty of frustration, as Josh Allen and his injured throwing elbow remain out of commission. Bills fans have seen nothing good in his place – as the team has gone without a touchdown the past two games and has failed to reach the end zone four times this season – and aren’t expecting that to change any time soon with Nathan Peterman likely to start for concussed Derek Anderson Sunday against Nagy’s Bears.
About all they can do as this 2-6 season circles the drain is hope Allen eventually looks like what the Bills’ decision-makers expected when they made him the seventh overall pick of the draft. Which is another way of saying they want him to look far better than he has shown in most of his action and become their version of Mahomes, whom the Chiefs made the 10th overall choice in ’17 with the pick they acquired in the trade that allowed the Bills to move down for talented cornerback Tre’Davious White.
Nagy’s advice: Take a deep breath and prepare to wait.
“When you're dealing with our guys, Mitch and Josh, it’s a little bit of a slower process (than with Mahomes), which is OK,” Nagy said by phone Wednesday. “You’ve just got to be willing to accept those (ups and downs) and try to make the highs bigger than the lows.”
Trubisky is having a better year than he did as a rookie, but his production has been far from spectacular. He has completed 64.6 percent of his passes for 1,814 yards and 15 touchdowns, with six interceptions. Still, he is making progress.
“For Mitch, this is really a rookie year for him because he’s learning our offense for the first time as a rookie,” Nagy said. “We have completely different verbiage than what he's used to, so both those guys are on the same level in regards to learning the offense. The difference is that Mitch had 12 games last year to be able to see defenses. And so that's where Josh is not only learning a whole new offense, but he's learning the pace of the defense as well. So there's a lot of different looks you're going to get.
“All in all, I think everybody has to be patient with expecting immediate, great results right away. And if you're patient, then in time, you want to surround your quarterback with good players and then ultimately, in time, get it to where he's growing faster than slower.”
So far, nothing compares with the growth shown by Mahomes, who spent most of last year watching while Alex Smith played. After the Chiefs shipped Smith to the Washington Redskins in the offseason, Mahomes moved into a starting spot that he seems born ready to fill.
Nagy was the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator last season. His primary function was putting Smith and the rest of Kansas City’s offense in the best position to succeed each week. But along the way, Nagy also was involved in bringing along Mahomes.
The Chiefs planned for Mahomes to be a spectator as a rookie. The Bills entered this season with a similar plan for Allen, but were forced to start him five games after Peterman’s disastrous season-opening performance at Baltimore. Since injuring his elbow in his fifth start, Allen has missed two games and is expected to be out again this week – and possibly longer.
The circumstance has created an opportunity for Allen to be a student, a role Mahomes fully embraced. And the results have been incredible, with his off-the-charts production pushing the Chiefs to a 7-1 record.
“Off the field, and I’m going back to last year, we had him on a pretty good regimen in regards to coming in and teaching him how to be a professional,” Nagy said. “How do you watch tape? What time do you come in in the morning? What do you do on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday? So you teach them, first, how to be a pro and understand that it's football, 24-7. Number two, you're taking care of your body. And then you're out in practice (taking everything in) as a backup quarterback as a rookie.
“There were times last year, when Alex was running the first team offense, when you watched the video from up in the sky, you can see Patrick 30 yards behind the line of scrimmage doing the exact footwork drops that Alex is doing, just doing it by himself behind the play. He's getting the footwork and the timing, and he’s visually going through calling the play and all that.
“Those are the little things that you can do to help yourself out when you're not getting those live reps in practice. He did that and that's a credit to Patrick and those guys for really having the ambition to do that. And then you take it to this year, Patrick has some talent around him that knows the system, too, so that helps him, which is great. Coach (Andy) Reid’s done an awesome job with all those guys.”
Sean McDermott is another branch on the Reid coaching tree. He is well aware of the benefits so far shown by the handling of Mahomes.
McDermott can only hope Allen realizes even a fraction of the same in his role as an observer.
“It's important that we control the areas that we can control with respect to his injury,” McDermott said. “You've seen him out there on the practice field taking snaps, albeit not under center but behind the offense at times kind of shadowing and mirroring some things that are going on so that he stays integrated into what we're doing. And then there's some things off the field we're doing with him to make sure that he continues to develop as much as he can right now without being under center.
“Even just rehearsing the huddle call is important in terms of communicating that. He makes that call to our quarterbacks coach, David Culley, and then he runs his own play so that we continue to get him reps, albeit it's not with an offense out there. But we’re doing as much as we can to control the control-ables right now.”
Listening to Nagy, it’s clear that the area that must be controlled the most is patience.