All three Kansas City Chiefs’ coordinators spoke with reporters on a Tuesday Zoom call, making their weekly chat with the media a few days early because of the Thanksgiving holiday.
Last week, special teams coordinator Dave Toub told us that new wide receiver Kadarius Toney was going to start returning punts in place of rookie wideout Skyy Moore — but that lasted only until Toney suffered a hamstring injury during the weekend’s Sunday Night Football matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers. Moore appeared for a couple of punt returns after Toney left the game.
Toub said the team is again thinking about using rookie cornerback Trent McDuffie — who missed six games with a hamstring injury of his own — to return punts.
“There’s a lot of thought about it,” acknowledged Toub. “He’s a lot closer now than he [was] last week. We’ll get him back in there at practice — and get him ready to go. He’s not far off.”
Toub said that while Moore was the “next guy in” after Toney’s injury, there is another wide receiver who could fill the role.
“Justin Watson [is] another guy that can do it,” noted Toub. “We feel comfortable with some of the guys we’ve got — McDuffie is definitely one of them — but we’ve got to get him up to speed and ready to go.”
Using McDuffie for returns, however, comes with an additional set of problems.
“He’s also a corner on punt returns,” said Toub. “He’s now starting in there for us [because] I took [L’Jarius] Sneed off of that. Sneed was doing a great job for us. Now McDuffie is in there [as] the starting left corner on punt returns.
“So if you take him out and use him on a punt return, you’ve got to find somebody at corner. So right now, he’ll be that guy — but he’ll also be a backup punt returner.”
Toub also seemed eager to set the record straight about rookie running back Isiah Pacheco, who created controversy by fielding a kickoff just inside the sideline during Sunday’s game.
“There were three things he could have [done],” explained Toub, “and one of them was bad. He knows it; he knew it right away.”
As a result, Kansas City started its next drive at its own 6-yard line. But his coach still values what the rookie running back brings to kickoff returns.
“I want him to go after every ball,” Toub said of Pacheco. “He’s doing that. He was going after it 100 miles an hour. He just kind of lost track of where he was on the field.”
Toub said that Pacheco had realized how close he was to the sideline just before he made the catch — but then mistakenly acted as if he was trying to catch a pass in-bounds rather than field a kickoff close to the sideline.
“When he realized it, he tried to toe-tap and get it down,” said Toub, “But that’s really not what you want to do in that situation.
“He’s got to sprint over there — but realize where he’s at. He could have put one foot out of bounds, kept one foot on the field, touched the ball, and we would have got the ball at the 40 — or just let the ball go out of bounds because I think it was headed in that way.”
Toub said that the rookie was embarrassed by the play — but will benefit from the experience.
“I’ll tell you what,” Toub declared. “He’s going to learn from it. These young players are going to learn from these mistakes — and don’t make the same mistake twice. [Pacheco’s] done a lot of good things for us already. That was just one negative play.”
Kansas City’s young special-teams players have been a frequent topic of conversation during the 2022 season, in which there have been multiple problems during special-teams snaps. But even though it may be hard to see, Toub insists his young players are steadily improving.
“You don’t necessarily see it on the field,” he noted. “[But] I see it on tape. I see different things that are happening [like] the blocking [and] the small details that are showing up — maybe on big returns, stuff like that — that the fans don’t see.
“I think we’re progressing well. We do have a lot of young guys. We’re improving. We’re improving each day, each game and each practice. We’ve just got to keep plugging away.”
If Toney and Hardman are unavailable, who do you want to see returning punts for the Chiefs?
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CB Trent McDuffie
WR Skyy Moore
WR Justin Watson