The Kansas City Chiefs are officially making a change at punt returner — although they hope that it is temporary.
After wide receiver Skyy Moore muffed his third punt of the season during the Chiefs’ 26-10 win over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, special teams coordinator Dave Toub turned to veteran wide receiver Justin Watson.
On Thursday, Toub made it sound like Watson would be the returner moving forward, with rookie cornerback Trent McDuffie as his backup. That said, Toub emphasized that the team is not entirely giving up on Moore.
“We just don’t quit on players,” said the longtime Chiefs special teams coordinator. “We’re going to keep working them and keep developing them. He’s a rookie, he’s going to get better. I’ve said it before. We went to the limit with him, obviously, and we need to get him out of there for awhile, and let his head settle down a little bit.”
Given that the receiver registered only one return during his three-year stay at Western Michigan, using him as an NFL punt returner was an experiment of sorts. Despite little game action at the position during college, Moore revealed that he still caught punts off the JUGS machine every day at practice.
The problem for Moore, as he explained, is that the JUGS machine is an imperfect means for mastering the ability to catch the ball.
“It goes up higher, and it comes down faster,” said Moore of punts in the game, “and the spin of it — you don’t really know how it’s going to be.”
The lack of in-game reps led to a continual problem for Moore, who had muffs in Week 3 against the Indianapolis Colts and Week 7 against the San Francisco 49ers before his latest drop against the Rams.
“I had a couple of them, unfortunately,” admitted Moore. “The first one, I was really down. The second one, it put me down even deeper. So the third one, I promised myself — like I forgot about it. I was so mad at myself, I had to really collect myself and just be like, ‘Don’t let that stuff [boil over].’ It was the first drive, I think, so I had to forget about it quickly and just go out and perform.”
With the Chiefs without receivers Mecole Hardman and Kadarius Toney against the Rams, head coach Andy Reid immediately turned to Moore on the next drive. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes delivered passes of 18 and 24 yards to Moore before Kansas City scored the game’s opening touchdown.
“The best thing was that I saw,” said Toub, “was the fact that he came in there as a wide receiver and made a great catch for us. [He] didn’t let that one play [get to him] — and I know Coach (Reid) talked about that, too — but that was really impressive to me.”
Moore, who finished with five catches for 36 yards in the game, was thankful to offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy (and Reid) for such a sudden chance to redeem himself. And oh yeah... quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
“First of all, [I credit] EB and coach Reid for putting me on the field after that,” said Moore, “and Pat for putting the ball in the air. I appreciate the whole offense for giving me the opportunity after a play like that.”
Looking back, Toub admitted maybe he had asked too much of the second-rounder.
“That’s my fault,” said Toub. “I had him out there. I have all the confidence in the world in the kid. I just felt like he was over the hump... He had a nice punt return in the game before. I felt like in the situation that he was in, on that particular play, I thought he had a great opportunity. He just took his eyes off the ball. It’s unfortunate.”
Moore never saw it that way.
“I wouldn’t say that I thought of it as too much on my plate,” he said. “I just thought of it as a new challenge — I never did it before, and I know what I can do with the ball in my hand, but I got to catch it. It was definitely a different experience.”
As Watson takes over, the next step for Moore will be continuing to take punts in practice, with Toub holding onto hope that one day down the road, the Chiefs can once again attempt to make him a returner.
“Over my 22-year career, I’ve developed a lot of guys — and I really feel like Skyy has that ability,” Toub reiterated. “He’s got that innate ability to make somebody miss — and he’s a good catcher of the football. I just think we cracked his confidence a little bit. It’s hard back there. I’ve talked about this before: how hard it is to play punt returner in the NFL. He just had some bad things happen to him, and we just need some time here. Time will heal it up for him, I think.”
Toub even muttered the name of the game’s greatest returner of all time, whom he coached as a member of the Chicago Bears from 2006 to 2012.
“I’m going to tell you what,” he started. “Devin Hester wasn’t a great fielder of balls. The thing that Devin Hester did was that every time he did get the ball in his hand, he did so many great things with it; he made so many plays that the risk was worth the reward. If he didn’t have those huge plays, he would be in the same situation. There were times he had three muffs in a year.
“We just didn’t get those explosive plays from Skyy for people to have patience enough to deal with it. People drop punts all over the league; it happens. It just happened too many times for Skyy.”
Moore added that Toub told him he would be benched for a while but could see himself getting an opportunity to try again in the future. Until then, he will work at fielding punts more cleanly.
And in the meantime, he will continue to receive unwavering encouragement from his coaching staff.
“It means a lot, knowing that [Toub] believes in me and that he’s willing to work with me through everything,” said Moore. “I appreciate that for sure.”