First-round draft pick Patrick Mahomes II will trot onto the field inside Arrowhead Stadium on Thursday night for the first time as the starting quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Might be the last time for a while, too.
The Chiefs are planning to rest Alex Smith and the rest of their offensive and defensive starters for their preseason finale against Tennessee. And that means Mahomes, the No. 10 overall selection and presumptive heir apparent, will run onto the field with the rest of the backups for the first series of the game.
"It is another step forward and an opportunity to see how he handles it and to continue to grow," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "I think it is a win-win from this standpoint. A chance, right? A chance to get in the game as a starter and put that one under your belt, that you have done it."
Reid has made it clear that Smith is the starter and Mahomes will be the No. 2 this season, and that barring an injury, the former Texas Tech star will spend a lot of time holding a clipboard. But with the cost of Smith's contract becoming prohibitive next year, Mahomes could be the starter as soon as next season.
That makes the reps he gets in Thursday night's game even more important.
"You prepare hard every single week like you're going to go in and be the starter. This week is going to be special to get that first start under my belt," Mahomes said. "It's a preseason game, but we'll all be treating it like it's a real one. It'll still be an opportunity for a lot of guys to get some reps, and they're going to be going out there and going hard every single play."
Especially considering the Titans will have their starters on the field, at least at the beginning.
While most teams rest their No. 1 units in anticipation of the regular season, Tennessee coach Mike Mularkey said this week "all 90" on the roster will play Thursday night. He believes the benefits of one last dress rehearsal are worth the risk of injuries that comes with the additional game.
"I don't know what the difference between the fourth game and the third game is. There's always that concern," Mularkey said. "You want to go in healthy to that opener, and right now we're pretty healthy. I have a veteran staff, I trust their opinions. We'll talk it through and we'll make some decisions.
"Right now, this is what we did last year," he added. "We got some work done."
The Chiefs returned most of their roster intact from last season, so there were precious few position battles during training camp. Those that did exist have largely been settled, and that has taken much of the pressure off playing crucial guys in the most meaningless of preseason games.
The Titans, meanwhile, have plenty of spots up for grabs.
First-round pick Adoree Jackson struggled at cornerback last week against Chicago, when he got the start ahead of LeShaun Sims. Those two are competing to start alongside veteran Logan Ryan in the secondary.
Jackson is also in the mix to return kicks, which could impact Eric Weems' status and have a cascading effect on the wide receiver group. The Titans are trying to decide how many wide receivers to keep, and while Weems is a valuable piece on special teams, there are other, more versatile players at his position.
Corey Davis and Rishard Matthews are listed as the starters with Eric Decker in the slot, and rookie Taywan Taylor and Tajae Sharpe appear to have the inside track on jobs. The question becomes whether Weems, Tajae Sharpe or veteran Harry Douglas - or some combination of them - make it through Saturday's cuts.
Speaking of Davis and Decker, both are coming off injuries and are questionable to play Thursday night.
Davis, the fifth overall pick out of Western Michigan, hurt his hamstring the first week of August, while Decker returned to practice Tuesday after hurting his ankle Aug. 17 in a joint practice with Carolina.
"Different coaches have different opinions on how they want to play their guys getting ready for the opener," Mularkey said. "That's the biggest thing, you've got to be ready when that opener turns around."
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