On a Sunday afternoon last fall, teenager Timothy Dorsey sat in front of the TV and flipped on the Chiefs game, same as he’d done hundreds of times before. The Chiefs have long been like a faith in his family, started by his grandfather, carried on by his father.
On this day, Dorsey watched as Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes rolled to his right to elude pressure, contorted his body in a flash and threw a deep ball back to his left.
On the money.
Whoa, the teenager thought. How’d he do that?
Dorsey is a junior at Bishop Miege High School who hopes to be the starting quarterback for the varsity football team this year, and his own training background offers a unique perspective on the collection of otherworldly Mahomes plays. That was his first thought that afternoon. Blissful appreciation.
He snickers at his second.
I bet we start practicing that play this week.
The ‘Mahomes Minutes’
Late at night, after his wife and kids have gone to bed, Justin Hoover digs into some film work. He has long forgotten what it feels like to watch a game as a normal fan. During a college football Saturday or NFL Sunday, he carries a scratch sheet of paper with him, taking notes on quarterback play. Sometimes he uses the app on his iPhone.
In 2013, Hoover opened Spin It Quarterback Academy in Kansas City. Considered a top quarterback guru in the area, he’s also the head coach for Shawnee Mission East.
And so a few days after Dorsey watched Mahomes prolong that late fourth-quarter drive with the against-the-grain deep route to wide receiver Tyreek Hill, he showed up at Spin It for a biweekly group session, already knowing what was coming. Jake Wolff, a junior in line to start at Blue Valley this fall, joined him there. Hoover ran them through a series of foundation drills. The layups, he calls them.
Then came the fun stuff. The off-script. The off-platform. The off-schedule. The stuff most coaches tell you not to do.
How it’s labeled on Hoover’s printed schedule: Mahomes Minutes.
“You have to practice the hard stuff. You have to practice the, ‘No, no no!’ moments in order to get that ‘yes’ result,” Hoover says. “When the pocket is fine and the window is there, we go back to our training and the stuff we’ve practiced a million times. But when the pocket breaks down, are we still capable of making a play? That depends whether you have enough reps practicing it.”
Earlier this year, Hoover researched the look of the typical quarterback pocket. Combining three years of data at the high school level, he discovered the typical pocket was, well, atypical.
Per his research, only one-third of passes were released without any extra required movement. Without an effective pass rush. With a clean pocket. The remaining two-thirds required some creativity and instincts.
Footwork. Arm angle. Body contortion. It’s all part of the final product, all potentially in need of alteration to throw the right pass.
“What’s the return on investment if 80% of the stuff you’re practicing is the stuff you’re only going to use 30-35% of the time?” Hoover says.
There’s a Mahomes Effect on youth and high school football in Kansas City. The Chiefs’ star has made it “cool to play quarterback again,” Hoover says. More local middle school kids are joining Hoover’s summer Spin It camps, “and half those guys wear a headband.” And when he polls the room to ask kids their favorite quarterback, wouldn’t you know it, almost every last one of them says Mahomes.
But the real benefit is that atypical. The stuff that actually shows up on the field. The ability to improvise and make quick decisions when necessary. Hoover has long believed in teaching the abnormal throwing motions. They’re part of every game. Might as well practice it, right?
Mahomes has offered validation.
“Nobody is going to be Mahomes because of his talent — his arm is insane,” Dorsey says. “But if we can use our body and our core, we can try to get close to that type of throw that he usually does.”
From practice to game
Wolff has a text chain with his wide receivers at Blue Valley. He tries to throw six days every week.
They cycle through all the normal routes. Fades. Curls. Posts.
Without a pass rush, Wolff uses his foundational training as he throws route after route. Hoover doesn’t advance quarterbacks to the “Mahomes Minutes” until they have that down first. With his teammates, Wolff mimics escaping pressure. Things he’s seen Mahomes do on Sundays. Plays that could extend a drive.
“When I first started moving around and throwing it like that, my receivers were like, ‘What the heck are you doing? Just throw the ball’” Wolff says. “But once I explained that not every throw I make in a game is going to come in a perfect way, they got it.”
By nature, some plays are almost designed for unique arm angles. Most high schools, for example, implement some form of run-pass option (RPO) into their playbook. Even when electing to throw immediately, a passer often needs to release the ball in a sidearm or three-quarters motion. Hoover’s students practice keeping their hand in proper position, even when dropping the arm slot.
They simulate specific types of blitzes. What if the defensive tackle bull rushes the left guard? What if my left tackle gets beat? What if an extra blitzer comes from my right side, but all of my receivers’ routes are headed that direction? How will I throw against my body?
Mahomes is a master of such situations. No, he isn’t the first quarterback to do it. Hoover actually drills one move he calls “Romo,” specifically for the former Cowboys quarterback, and it’s been in his training routine for years. But Mahomes does the improvisation most consistently. He owns the largest repertoire of escapes and arm angles and lower and upper-body contortions.
More simply, he’s Exhibit A.
And one that hits close to home.
“But listen, he’s a one-percenter in terms of ability — he’s on a different planet,” Hoover says. “Typically what we’ll do is try something he does but in a different tempo or a different pace. Let’s do part of that move.”
The lesson is knowing when to need it. When to actually use it in a game. It’s not going to be the opening drive. “But what if it’s 21-17 in the fourth quarter and it’s fourth (down) and six? That’s why we set up situations in our practice.”
They’ve run the gamut on Mahomes’ 2018 season film. Almost. Wolff, Dorsey and the rest of the quarterbacks in the academy haven’t trained the left-handed pass. They’ve messed around with the no-look, but only for fun.
For now. Wolff thinks he’s gotten pretty good with the no-look. He even used it in a 7-on-7 scrimmage over the summer.
As for a game...
“I mean, you never know,” he says. “It’s just gotta be the right time.”