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Harrison Butker leading Chiefs specialists in their own practices

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In his new role as the specialists’ leader, the Chiefs placekicker isn’t willing to let the pandemic keep his unit from being ready for training camp and the season.

NFL: Super Bowl LIV-AFC Champions-Press Conference Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Since the Kansas City Chiefs released punter Dustin Colquitt at the end of April, we’ve been trying to grasp with what that will mean for the Chiefs as they defend their Super Bowl championship season in 2020.

Some would argue that it will make little difference. Since quarterback Patrick Mahomes became the starter in 2018, no NFL team has punted less often than the Chiefs. So on that basis alone, their argument makes sense.

But in the modern NFL, punters have another responsibility: holding for placekickers. In fact, punters typically have to have the best “hands” on the team. This is because on every play where they touch the ball, a lot is at stake. A mishandled long snap on a punt can turn a fourth-and-long into an opponent possession deep in your own territory. Another one during a placekicking attempt can take potential points off the board — which can mean the difference between a win and a loss.

This is why “specialists” have become the norm on NFL teams — a placekicker, punter and long snapper who concentrate on two kinds of plays all the time, doing their best to get every detail right.

“There’s just so many small things that you have to perfect,” Chiefs placekicker Harrison Butker said last week. “There are so many guys that can do [the] job — that can hold the ball — but how well can you do it? Can you do it at an elite level? I think that’s what separates people: focusing on the details.”

With Colquitt gone, Butker has assumed the role of the specialists’ leader. In Butker’s mind, with Tommy Townsend and Tyler Newsome now competing for Colquitt’s job, the first order of business was getting his group working together — regardless of the coronavirus pandemic.

“With the virtual offseason, we just figured it would be best for Tommy and Tyler to be up here,” Butker explained, “because as I was saying earlier, the chemistry is so important.

“What I did not want was for us to show up at training camp — and that was the first time for us to meet and get to know each other,” he continued. “And now we’re doing live snap-hold kicks together. The more we can be around each other, the better. We’re doing the best we can with all the laws that in place right now in Missouri and Kansas.”

Based on current NFL pandemic rules, the specialists can’t practice under the supervision of coaches at the team facility, so they are working out on their own — wherever they can.

“Obviously, we have the four-days-a-week virtual meetings [where] we meet with Dave Toub and Andy Hill,” Butker said. “But we’ve been meeting on a lot of high school fields to be able to get some work in. Obviously we’re not kicking six days a week. We’re doing two or three days of kicking. The rest [is] getting intense holding drills done.”

Butker believes that this extra work will make the unit ready to face training camp — and the coming season.

“So much of holding is repetition. I don’t believe it’s like, ‘Oh, you’re just a natural great holder.’ I think that’s something that you can continue to work on. I love the work ethic of Tommy and Tyler. They’re all about getting better. They know a big part of being the punter is also being the holder — and that affects what I do. So I’m all for them getting more work.”