We can always count on Kansas City Chiefs special teams coordinator “Uncle” Dave Toub to give us plenty of information about what’s going on with his unit. And his session with reporters after Tuesday’s training camp practice at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph was no exception.
After missing an extra point during Saturday night’s preseason opener against the San Francisco 49ers, Chiefs placekicker Harrison Butker was top-of-mind among the reporters. Like many fans, they wonder if this is a return to 2020’s six-game stretch in which Butker missed five extra points.
“No, I don’t think we need to hit the panic button right now,” insisted Toub. “He’s had a really good camp. He just kind of caught the ball a little bit higher on his foot, and he yanked it a little bit. During the game, he kind of developed that — and it was hard to get out of it during the game.”
Toub said that Butker had made two 62-yard field goal attempts during pre-game warmups, which prompted the team to try for the 62-yarder that Butker missed during the game. But even with those two misses on Saturday night, Toub isn’t concerned.
“We’re happy with where Butker is right now,” he declared. “He was 100% today — on a lot of kicks — so he’s going to be fine.”
Meanwhile, Toub was over-the-moon about Saturday night’s performance from his second-year punter.
“You can’t watch that game without noticing Tommy Townsend,” raved Uncle Dave. “I mean, he was outstanding for us. You saw him have those kinds of days in practice — where he bombs the ball — [but] we’d never seen him transfer it to a game like he did. It was really good to see. So seven punts [where] he was really bombing the ball and placing it where we needed it — especially that one that went out on the 1-yard line. That was amazing.”
“I always knew he had the talent,” said Toub, who has been one of the league's top special teams coaches since before he joined the team in 2013. “It’s just [been] about transferring that. It’s good to see that he was able to do that; it’s going to help him.
“The experience that he had in the Super Bowl? I think it was great; it’s just how he handles it. Is it going to be negative, or is it going to be positive? I think he’s taken the right path.”
Toub admitted, however, that not everything that came out of the 49ers game was a positive for his unit.
“We found out some guys can’t play returner,” he acknowledged. “That’s always good to know. We didn’t have any turnovers, but we saw [that] some guys don’t have exactly what [we’re] looking for; you find that out. The good thing is that we had a lot of reps — we had 32 reps on special teams — so it was really good for us to evaluate punt, punt return, kickoff and kick return.”
And in those reps, Toub found confirmation of something else he had already believed: that new cornerback Mike Hughes — who had a punt and a kick return totaling 62 yards against the 49ers — would be a good returner.
“[On] the kick return, he really hit it. Did a nice job,” noted Toub. “I told our guys to come out [of the end zone] no matter where it was kicked — that’s why he came out [from] eight [yards] deep. Everybody got on their block and did a good job blocking — and I think we were one block away from scoring on that play. But he really hit it — and it was encouraging to see him do that. We knew he had return ability — and it was good to see it in a game.”
Toub also said he’s expecting to see good things from wide receiver Darrius Shepherd — the former Blue Springs High School player who averaged 18.7 yards per kickoff return during two seasons with the Green Bay Packers.
“He’s a solid catcher,” observed Toub. “I can count on him. He’s going to catch the ball great — [I’m] talking punt returns. He didn’t get an opportunity on kick returns. We’re going to try and get him one this week. But he’s a solid catcher; he gets north and south. [But] I still want to see that burst — you know, the ‘NFL burst.’ You want to see that. And he’ll probably get opportunities this week.”
This week’s game will be against the Arizona Cardinals in Phoenix on Friday night. Toub expects that as the nationally-televised game begins, we’ll see more of the first-team special-teams players than we saw on Saturday.
“You’ll see a little bit more of the ‘ones’ — our ‘ones’ — [in] the first kickoff, the first punt,” he told reporters. “[We] only got one rep [in the] last game. In this game, they’ll get two — maybe even three. The ‘fours’ will get a little bit less. That’s the way we work it throughout the preseason.”
Unfortunately for Toub, some of the players he likes best for his unit will likely be cut when the three-game preseason ends. But he knows that’s just the way it is.
“It’s hard,” he acknowledged. “Sometimes, you lose guys that you want to keep. But you go in [and] you make your arguments for guys.”
Toub is often thought to have enough influence with head coach Andy Reid to have some players (besides specialists like Butker) make the roster only because of their special-teams skills. But after mentioning that he advocates with Reid for certain players, he offered some pushback on that idea.
“They have to be solid offensive or defensive layers first,” he emphasized. “It’s our job to turn those guys down the line into really good special-teams players. That’s the way it works. We don’t keep a lot of players because they play special teams. That’s not what’s really happening here. They’ve got to play offense and defense first — and then we turn them into better players.”