If there’s one Kansas City Chiefs special-teams player who has taken a lot of heat in recent weeks, it’s rookie defensive back Zayne Anderson.
Anderson was flagged with costly penalties in each of the last two games of the regular season. Against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17, it was Anderson who was penalized for holding on a kickoff return, wiping out Byron Pringle’s spectacular 89-yard run for a touchdown — a play that, in retrospect, can be seen as one that kept Kansas City from securing the AFC’s postseason bye week.
Then, in the regular-season finale against the Denver Broncos, Anderson was penalized for roughing Broncos punter Sam Martin after a defensive stop in the first quarter. That penalty turned what would have been a Denver three-and-out into a 67-yard touchdown drive that blunted Kansas City’s momentum — ultimately keeping the Broncos in the game until well into the fourth quarter.
After these two crucial errors, there are plenty of Chiefs fans who never want to see the undrafted free agent out of Brigham Young on the field again — especially in the playoffs. But Chiefs special-teams coordinator Dave Toub — who said that he’s talked to Anderson about those two plays — has an entirely different view.
“We talked about those,” Toub told reporters during Thursday’s Zoom press conference. “The thing about Zayne [is that] he’s playing as hard as he can possibly play. He’s got to play a little smarter in some spots, obviously — but I still love the guy.
“That holding call that happened two weeks ago? That could have happened to anybody on the field; it could have been called, it could not have been called. And then running into the kicker? He was two inches away from being the hero of the game. That’s the way I look at it.
“I mean, he comes clean — he does everything right. He false-stepped a little bit — didn’t get there early enough — but he was two inches away from blocking that punt, scooping and scoring. Now it’s 14-0, and they have no life at all.
“But it didn’t happen that way, right? We rough him; that gives them a little bit of life.”
Toub said that he has no desire to blunt Anderson’s aggressiveness.
“There’s a fine line,” he explained. “You want to stay aggressive as a special teams coach — and as a team. You want to try to make a play, but [on a punt block,] you’ve also got to realize when you got there early enough to just take it off the foot — or when you got there late enough that you have to pull off... I don’t want to throw him down by any means — to turn him into a passive guy who is worried about making a mistake. I want him to stay aggressive — and I want him to get the block next time.”
Toub said that despite these miscues, the Chiefs believe that they have found a player who can be a long-term contributor in Anderson.
“We see him in the practice every day,” insisted Toub. “We see his speed — I mean, we saw it on the field. He’s made plays for us while he’s been in there — good plays — running down kick returns from behind. [It’s] his speed [and] his size — he’s got a great combination of things — and he’s got the right temperament. I mean, he is not afraid. We’ve just got to get it under control a little bit more — just be a little bit smarter in some spots — but he’s going to be a good football player for us.”
Toub said that in Anderson’s case, it is important for him to learn the most important lesson about his costly errors.
“Don’t let one bad play mess up the next play. You’ve got to forget it,” he said. “I mean, if one bad play happened, you’ve got to come in and execute the next play 100%. Be where you’re supposed to be, be on the field, do your job — I mean, those are the things that we try to coach.
“Mistakes are going to happen — especially with a young kid like that — but we still love him. He’s a good player. He’s going to help us in the future — [and] he’s going to help us in the playoffs. We’re not down on Zayne by any means.”