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Chiefs’ coordinator notes on punt returner, running back rotation

Mike Hughes to return? How much will we see McKinnon?

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at San Francisco 49ers Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs coordinators joined the media on Thursday ahead of the team’s first game of the 2021 season — a 3:25 p.m. Sunday matchup against the Cleveland Browns at Arrowhead Stadium. Given their specializations, the coordinators can sometimes provide more extensive insight. We had two items of note on Thursday.

Who will be starting at punt returner?

The Chiefs may go with No. 3 cornerback Mike Hughes on Sunday. In the past, special teams coordinator Dave Toub has been straightforward in saying it was wide receiver Mecole Hardman’s job — but that wasn’t exactly the case on Thursday.

The Chiefs gave Hughes opportunities in the preseason — and at times, he looked as though he might be the team’s best option there.

“Yeah, I’m not going to say who exactly is going to be back there right now, but I’m happy with both of those guys,” said Toub. “The good thing is we have a lot of guys we can go to, and he’s one of them. He’s certainly one of them.”

Hughes last returned punts during his 2019 season with the Minnesota Vikings. In 14 tries, he accumulated 104 yards (7.4 yards per return).

How much will Jerick McKinnon play?

Given running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s development as a pass protector (as our Ron Kopp covered earlier this week), it seems there is a chance he garners a bigger workload in 2021. Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy weighed in on Thursday.

“I’m feeling very comfortable about Clyde adding to his role and what he does,” said Bieniemy. “Coach Lew (Greg Lewis) has done a great job with him. He’s done a great job with all those guys, in fact — and I think those guys pretty much showed you exactly what they’re capable of during the preseason. But the best thing about Clyde is that he’s had an opportunity to digest everything during the offseason, so that’s huge. On top of that, he’s had an opportunity to get out there and put it on display in training camp. So, with this additional week, now with everything we’ve had an opportunity to study, I think Clyde is going to be fine. I think the entire group is going to go out there and do what is expected of them to do.”

That group includes fourth-year running back Darrel Williams — who is, as of now, the team’s third-down back — and veteran newcomer Jerick McKinnon. The Chiefs kept the eighth-year running back over Darwin Thompson, who landed on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad.

“We’re excited about the addition of Jerick,” said Bieniemy. “I think Jerick brings a lot. He brings a great deal of experience. He’s done a great job of playing on special teams. On top of that, he can run the ball, too. And he can catch out of the backfield, so he brings us a little bit of everything that we love when executing, doing what we do on our side of the ball.”

McKinnon probably profiles in the offense in certain two-back looks, as well as fresh legs in place of Edwards-Helaire in the third and fourth quarter. All in all, the Chiefs appear to be satisfied with their depth at the position.

“I’m going to knock on wood, but I’m feeling pretty good,” said Bieniemy. “These guys have been working their tails off. Clyde has done a heck of a job. Darrel, obviously, is the jack of all trades; he’s done a heck of a job since he’s been here. And Jerick has.”

Still, no definitive outlook from the offensive coordinator.

“You know what? I think you’ll find out on Sunday — how about that one?” laughed Bieniemy about the running back rotation. “All of those guys bring something special to the table, and we’re not opposed to Clyde going out there and playing 100 snaps. We’re not opposed to all those guys having an opportunity and a role... we just want our guys to go out there and maximize the opportunities that are presented when on that field.”

Check back for snap counts Monday afternoon.