Throughout last week’s game-planning and practice, it was difficult to tell which of the Kansas City Chiefs’ opponents would be tougher: the Pittsburgh Steelers or COVID-19. Ultimately, the team was forced to play without several key players — including placekicker Harrison Butker and punter Tommy Townsend.
On Thursday, Chiefs assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Dave Toub discussed having to replace both kicking specialists on short notice, crediting general manager Brett Veach for finding suitable replacements: placekicker kicker Elliott Fry and punter Johnny Townsend — Tommy’s older brother.
“They were outstanding,” declared Toub. “The fact that Brett had the foresight to actually sign Elliott the week before to get him on the practice squad — that really helped. When Butker tested positive, then we were able to immediately start working with Elliott.
“He was working with Tommy at the time — then Tommy all of the sudden goes down later in the week. That was really what threw us the curveball — [it] was having him go down so late in the week and then getting Johnny in off the street. Really — with one day of practice and getting him working with Elliott — those guys really deserve a lot of credit for what they did.”
While both players are now former Chiefs after the team activated Butker and Tommy Townsend back to the roster, Toub said he believes they will have other opportunities after rising to the occasion in Kansas City — while acknowledging that the Chiefs could need them again, too.
“What your resume is, is your tape,” Toub said of Fry and Townsend’s futures. “And they went in there, and we had eight field goals — literally, we had the four extra points but they’re all field goals — and the couple [of] punts that we had. Both of them really did a good job in a tough situation.
“A windy day — that wasn’t an easy day. That was probably an eight on the 10-scale; that wind was gusting. For special teams, that’s our nemesis. And those guys, they handled it great.
“Before they left — on their exit interview — I told them, ‘You guys are on our shortlist.’ If something happened, they would be able to be plugged right in. In a heartbeat, I would take both of them back. That’s a no-brainer for us because they know our system; they’ve proven themselves. I think it’s going to help them going forward — whether it’s here or anywhere else.”
Toub saved his greatest praise for the one regular specialist who was available on Sunday: his long snapper.
“Really, the guy that held the whole thing together was James Winchester,” Toub explained. “He was out there getting extra reps and doing all the extra things as far as getting them ready for practice: Telling them what we’re going to do [and] all the ins and outs of what we do.
“He was spot on with his snaps — that wasn’t even a question. James was the hero of the week.”
As the regulars return, Toub recognizes the difficulties when players miss game action — particularly given Butker’s reputation for intensity.
“I thought about that,” Toub recalled. “I said, ‘I wonder what Harrison is doing right now?’ I guarantee [you] he was going nuts. This is so important to him; it’s his life. For him to miss, it definitely hurt him; I know that. He was watching — probably on the edge of his seat — on every kick and every kickoff.
“It’s just good to have him back — and I’m sure he’s happy to be back.”