It has become more and more clear, as training camp and the preseason carry on, that Tyreek Hill will play a critical role in the Kansas City Chiefs offense for Patrick Mahomes.
And with that in mind, I’ve tried to stay on top of whether or not the Chiefs would move him from his punt-returner role. Hill has three career punt-return touchdowns and an average of 12.4 yards per return in 64 tries.
Back in late July, I asked Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub if he would consider moving Hill from his punt-returner job, and he laughed.
But his tune was a bit different Wednesday morning coming off Hill’s 69-yard connection with Mahomes in the Chiefs’ last preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons.
“Coach (Andy) Reid and I, we have conversations about that a lot,” Toub said. “Tyreek keeps elevating as a receiver, so you have to look at it. You have to be smart with it, so we’ll be smart.”
If the Chiefs move on from Hill as their punt returner, rookie sixth-round cornerback Tremon Smith is an option, as Smith is already well in the mix for the team’s kick-return job.
“He’s on his way,” Toub said, when discussing Smith as a kick returner. “I still love De’Anthony (Thomas), and De’Anthony has a lot experience, and hopefully, we get him in there this week [against Chicago]—get him some reps, De’Anthony I’m talking about, and just see where he’s at right now coming off his injury. Those are all things that we need to look at.”
Toub called Thomas the pound-for-pound toughest player on the Chiefs during the 2017 preseason and doubled down on that notion this year.
“De’Anthony’s a guy that nobody talks about because he hasn't been practicing and hasn’t been playing in games, but he’s still solid for us,” Toub said. “He’s a guy I can depend on if he was back there as a punt returner or a kick returner, for that matter.”
And though Toub now seemed open to considering Smith or Thomas at punt returner, he acknowledged what the Chiefs would be losing in Hill.
“In my opinion, I’m kind of biased on this, but I think he’s the best returner in the league,” Toub said. “There’s probably a lot of teams that would say that same thing. Not to have him back there, he’s a great weapon, but at the same time, you have to weigh. We don’t want to get that guy hurt, but at the same time, if you can have him back there, what a threat that causes for other teams.”
Toub explained much more goes into punt returning than kick returning because of having to catch the ball and make cuts while opposing players are trying to tackle you.
“Tremon is lightyears away from Tyreek right now. We’re trying to bring him along, and you’re talking about night and day right now.”
Other special teams nuggets from Toub
- Asked if he has been surprised by any Chiefs special teams contributors, Toub specifically mentioned linebackers Ben Niemann and Dorian O’ Daniel.
- Because the wide receiver room is so deep, Toub said that the No. 5 and No. 6 receivers will need to contribute on special teams: “(Jehu) Chesson has been great. He was great last year, and so has (Marcus) Kemp ... (Gehrig) Dieter is in the mix now as well, and obviously, De’Anthony. Brett Veach and his crew, they’ll make the right decisions.”
- Specifically, on Niemann: “He’s solid. I talked about how Tremon (Smith) doesn’t make the same mistake twice; neither does Ben. He gets in there, and he’s somebody I can trust. He’s beyond his years as far as—he’s real smart. He’s very dependable. He’s fundamentally sound. He picks things up really quick. He’s got great instincts, and he’s fast and he’s big. He’s a good football player—there’s nothing going to hold him back, I don’t believe.”
- On Armani Watts: “Developmental. He continues to get better. He needs to keep doing more for us. That’s where he’s going to help the team this year, is being that guy. He plays fast, he had great college tape. He flies around, but he just needs more reps. More repetitions and that will help. That will help him.”