During any NFL team’s bye week, there is more time to self-scout and determine if there are necessary changes to the lineup or game plan. It’s what the coaching staff of the Kansas City Chiefs did, and we didn’t have to wait for Sunday to learn of one of their conclusions.
When answering questions at his Thursday press conference, Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub revealed that the punt returning position could see more of a rotation starting in the upcoming matchup with the Tennessee Titans.
The information naturally came out when Toub was asked about rookie wide receiver Skyy Moore, who has muffed two punts as the team’s full-time punt returner through the season’s first seven games.
“He’s going to be one of them,” Toub responded to a question about Moore continuing to be the full-time kick returner. “We’ll see if we start him or not. He’ll still be in the mix. We’re not giving up on him; we have to keep developing him moving forward. We have three or four guys that can do it.”
On 12 returns this season, Moore has averaged seven yards a return — with his longest being 15 yards. He looks the part once he becomes a ball carrier, but he has struggled to receiver the punt cleanly. It makes sense, considering the little in-game experience Moore has catching punts.
“You have to remember he didn’t do it in college, we were trying to create him,” Toub admitted. “We’re not giving up on him, because he has talent, it’s in there — he just has to get more confident, he has to catch more balls in games. He can catch them on the jugs, but the games are where it matters most, when you have that coverage coming down on you.”
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The lack of comfort in receiving the sky-high kicks has been noticeable to Chiefs fans. Toub cites Moore’s feel of the oncoming tacklers as a reason for the slacking fundamentals.
“Sometimes, it can feel like they’re right on him when they are really not,” Toub explained. “I think that’s part of his hesitation is catching the ball low and getting his eyes up, instead of keeping focus on the football. If you look at his misses, he’s got his eyes up and they’re low catches — too low. He’s not catching the ball high enough. He does a good job in practice at that, but it’s the games.”
At times this year, the Chiefs have used the former starting punt returner: Mecole Hardman; he has returned two punts for 13 yards total.
Now, they also have 2021 first-round selection Kadarius Toney — who has been practicing this week and is not listed on the injury report. He has been drilled at both kick and punt returns and has given his new coaching staff something to think about immediately.
“You can tell whether he’s a good catcher,” Toub began. “You can tell what kind of first step he has, and you can tell how his make-you-miss [ability] is there,”
“[He is] someone that can see the coverage coming, he anticipates — like Devin Hester did, he anticipated it and was able to cut ahead of time or set something up. He reads the blocking the exact way that the blocking is, instead of just running into somebody’s back.”
No one is surprised to hear that Toub has been impressed with Toney’s movement and open-field running ability, but Toub further complimented his newest player with a less-common description of the second-year receiver.
“He’s strong too,” Toub continued to describe. ”He’s got really good vision and great suddenness. He’s very strong, and that’s one of the things I talked to the special teams coach of the Giants about. The first thing he said was how strong he was. It’s the same thing he’s seeing that we saw in college, so it’s good.”
While Toney only has one professional punt return to his name, he returned 13 punts in his college career — including 11 during his final season at the University of Florida. He had three returns of 19 or more yards, with one of them being a 50-yard touchdown. The only muff of his career came on his first college return as a true sophomore.
So the newcomer may be one of the players rotating with or substituting for Moore, but there’s another new name in the lineup that could potentially fill the role too. Rookie cornerback Trent McDuffie is slated to return to the field for the first time since Week 1.
McDuffie was one of the top punt returners in the preseason, but Toub downplayed his immediate impact.
“He’s just coming back so we’re just kind of slow playing him,” Toub emphasized. “But yeah he’s another guy that can do it... we don’t want to put too much on his plate right now.”
McDuffie may just be focused on cornerback in the upcoming game, but the rest of the aforementioned players may all be getting a shot at punt returner. It sounds safe to expect a new face back there on Sunday — but it’s not an easy job for any player. It’s not exactly catching a fly ball in the outfield.
“The only difference in baseball is you aren’t getting whacked by somebody running down the field,” Toub pointed out. “It’s a big difference.”