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Chiefs training camp notebook: Special teams notes from Dave Toub

The special teams coordinator spoke to the media in person for the first time since the 2019 season.

Kansas City Chiefs v Tennessee TItans Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

As Kansas City Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub walked to his first physical press conference in over a year, he fully embraced the moment.

“It’s been a long time,” said Toub with a smile.

Toub is excellent with the press, always providing nuggets when it comes to the roster’s bubble. At this time of year, if a player is going to make it in one of the final spots, he will have to make an impact on special teams. Tight end hopeful Jody Fortson, who has impressed on offense at camp, fits that mold.

“Jody has really stepped up,” said Toub. “He put on like 20 pounds of muscle, and you can see it in his play. He’s playing a lot bigger, he’s playing with a lot more confidence, and the same thing is going on special teams. He’s holding up guys stronger. He doesn’t look like a wide receiver anymore; he looks like a tight end. So, he’s really stepped it up, and he’s definitely one of the guys that I’m looking forward to seeing.”

So too is undrafted safety Devon Key, who has impressed on the other side of the football.

“Devon Key is another one,” added Toub. “Obviously, being a young guy, it’s going to be important he goes in there and makes plays on special teams because he’s really not in a battle for maybe a one or two spot, but maybe a third spot, and it’s going to come down to special teams and what he can do there. He’s definitely that guy.”

Toub confirmed that wide receiver Mecole Hardman would start as the team’s punt returner, and Byron Pringle would start as the team’s kick returner.

“We’re going to start off with the way we ended last year,” noted Toub. “I think both of those guys have improved because we had OTAs, we didn’t have that last year, and now we’re having camp, and they’ve really developed on some of their weaknesses. They’re getting better seeing the ball and catching it coming forward, and I think both of them are going to take a good step forward.”

As for chasing down returners in the gunner positions, Toub provided two expected names and a surprise one.

“Right now, it’s Marcus Kemp and Pringle,” said Toub. “I’m trying to work BoPete Keyes into the mix. If he can step it up as a corner on defense as well as being a good gunner for us, he has a really good shot at being a player for us. So, it’s going to come down to the preseason games.”

The Chiefs play the 49ers next Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Arrowhead Time, when Chiefs fans will get to see if wide receiver Marcus Kemp’s offensive step forward he’s shown in training camp will translate to a game setting.

In the meantime, Toub is once again firmly in the fifth-year player’s corner.

“He’s always been a solid special teams player,” Toub said of Kemp. “That’s not going to change, and he has the right mentality. He’s not going to — all of a sudden now that he’s making more plays on offense — not be a good special teams player. We’re fortunate to have a guy like him that can come in, be a good teams player for me and then come in and be a solid guy that they can go to on offense, so it’s good to see him making big plays out there.”

Cornerback Mike Hughes — a veteran who came to the Chiefs by way of trade — is someone Toub thinks will shock fans in a role as a return specialist. As it stands, Hughes has 16 punt returns and four kick returns in his pro career, but he hasn’t returned a punt since December of 2019.

“Mike Hughes is a guy that is going to surprise a lot [of people],” mentioned Toub. “He’s a really good returner. He’s got great returner skills, and he hasn’t really been tapped in that department, and we’ve been working him back there as a punt returner as well as a kick returner. We’re going to get him in there and see what he can do. He’s been real impressive at practice.”

Toub also felt like folks should be on the lookout for what rookie linebacker Nick Bolton can do.

“Bolton’s going to be a factor,” said Toub. “He’s going to start off as a four-phase player for us on special teams until he’s not — until he becomes a starter on defense and is getting more on defense, and then we’ll pull him off, but I’m looking forward to seeing Bolton, too.”

Other players to watch for Toub? Dorian O’Daniel, who has made a career on special teams, as well as rookie tight end Noah Gray and wide receiver Darrius Shepherd.

Toub sees Shepherd as another possible returner who can make a team on those skills alone.

“If he shows up there (in special teams), if he doesn’t make our team, he’s going to help himself make another team,” concluded Toub.

So is the case for many players in the NFL with hopes of simply making a 53-man roster.

Observations

  • The weather in St. Joseph Friday morning was sunny and bright, with the temperature in the low-70s when practice began at 9:15 a.m. — and climbing to the mid-to-high 70s by the end of the workout. Friday marked Chiefs’ Alumni Day.
  • Friday’s session was a shorts-and-shells day, breaking the streak of three padded practices in a row. In a 10-10-10 practice like the Chiefs had Friday, the team goes through a lighter workout and cycles through 10 offensive plays, 10 defensive plays and 10 minutes of special teams.
  • With minimal defense in a 10-10-10, Patrick Mahomes was free to launch the ball, connecting with Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson on deep passes downfield.
  • Beyond the usual suspects, young players such as Byron Pringle, Marcus Kemp and Gehrig Dieter continue to see looks with the first team. It has been much less for rookie Cornell Powell, but it is worth noting that it is still relatively early in training camp.
  • Cornerback L’Jarius Sneed had the day’s best defensive play, as he intercepted Shane Buechele during goal-line work. Buechele and fellow third-string possibility Anthony Gordon took what would be considered the second-team reps, with Chad Henne getting the day off.
  • With Laurent Duvernay-Tardif sidelined due to a hand injury, second-year offensive lineman Yasir Durant was next up at second-team right guard. Wyatt Miller got some work at left tackle.
  • Hill, Travis Kelce and Clyde Edwards-Helaire participated in the fan-favorite quarterback drill, but no player, including the quarterbacks, could hit any target on Friday.
  • The practice ran less than two hours — and its primary purpose seemed more to get the guys moving headed into an off day than anything else.


Press conferences (Spotify)

If you can’t see the embed below, click here for Apple iTunes.

Injury report

  • Returned to practice: Cornerback Deandre Baker (femur)
  • Did not practice/not in pads (due to injury): Tight end Evan Baylis (ankle), wide receiver Antonio Callaway (bone bruise), right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (hand), linebacker Willie Gay (concussion protocol), defensive end Malik Herring (ACL), right guard Kyle Long (tibia), defensive end Alex Okafor (hamstring), right tackle Mike Remmers (back spasms), offensive lineman Prince Tega Wanohgho (knee), wide receiver Chad Williams (groin)
  • Did not participate in team drills (injury): n/a
  • Injured at practice Friday: n/a

Tweet of the day

Our John Dixon compiled all of Friday’s tweets here. Here is the tweet of the day:

True in more settings than one.

Quote of the day

Dave Toub on “Randy Reid” giving some pointers to his special teams unit: “Yeah, he gave them some pointers today. Next question.”

What’s next?

The Chiefs will have a day off on Saturday and return to practice on Sunday at 9:15 a.m. Arrowhead Time. After the light workout on Friday, the Chiefs will put the pads back on for their Sunday workout.