Though special teams has been a major factor in the last decade of success for the Kansas City Chiefs, inconsistency on the unit this season looks like a potential Achille’s heel.
With wide receivers Mecole Hardman and Kadarius Toney injured, the Chiefs are particularly thin on options at punt returner. Rookie wide receiver Skyy Moore — who entered the league with virtually no experience in the return game — has fumbled three punts and shown no signs of being a viable solution.
After his third drop of the season in Sunday’s victory over the Los Angeles Rams, the team appears to have (finally) given up on the idea of Moore learning on the fly. Chiefs assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Dave Toub, however, raised eyebrows on Thursday by again suggesting that rookie cornerback Trent McDuffie — the 21st overall selection in April’s draft — might be in the mix to return punts.
Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub said that WR Justin Watson is the punt returner moving forward. It sounds like CB Trent McDuffie is the backup.— Pete Sweeney (@pgsween) December 1, 2022
McDuffie returned nine punts for 74 yards in three seasons at Washington.
Speaking after practice Friday, he appeared receptive to the idea.
“Toub knows that whenever he needs me, I’ll be back there,” the rookie claimed. “[I’m] just making sure I take it upon myself to be ready just in case they need me to go out there and give the ball back to the offense.”
McDuffie did imply that should be he called upon, fans should not expect him to be as aggressive as a regular returner.
“I think that the biggest thing punt returners can do,” he explained, “is make sure to catch the ball — and make something happen if they can. But most importantly — as a defender — we want to get off the field. So just making sure to give it back to the offense.”
Though Moore’s performance in the return game has been controversial, McDuffie praised his teammate for the progress he made learning as a pro something he had not done in college.
“Way back in training camp,” he recalled, “I was trying to give him tips. It’s tough back there being a punt returner with these great punters and how high the kick goes and just reading everything. For somebody new back there, it can be tough. I think he did a good job of just consistently going out there and trying to attack it and just keep getting better.”
Should he be asked to field a punt, Chiefs fans will not need to worry about McDuffie’s inexperience, as they did with Moore.
“I feel like I’ve been doing punt returns all the way back since high school,” he claimed, “so it’s more of a comfortable thing for me back there. I don’t really stress too much about it. Just making sure I’d be able to do my job and just catch the ball. I think that’s the biggest thing for me. During practice, Coach has given me a lot of reps to be able to go back there and just get back into the rhythm of things. I’m ready if he needs me.”