Kansas City Chiefs assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Dave Toub spoke with the media following Tuesday’s training camp practice at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Missouri.
Now entering his tenth season with the team, Toub is faced with a roster that is without many longtime special-teams contributors — including linebacker Dorian O’Daniel, safety Armani Watts and wide receiver Marcus Kemp. The team also lost two returner options: wideout Byron Pringle and cornerback Mike Hughes.
“On special teams, I lost six four-phase players,” noted Toub. “We’ve got to replace them with guys.
“There’s holes everywhere. It’s going to be a complete reset; it’s going to be tough. It’s hard to tell what a guy can do in practice because we don’t do anything live. It’s really the games. We might be making decisions up to the [final preseason] Green Bay game.”
While wide receiver Mecole Hardman has taken the majority of punt returns since 2019, Toub acknowledges Hardman’s bigger role on offense (after Kansas City traded star wide receiver Tyreek Hill) may necessitate looking at other players for that role. Two of those could be cornerback Trent McDuffie and wide receiver Skyy Moore — two of the team’s top three selections in April’s NFL Draft.
“I like McDuffie,” he said of the 21st overall selection. “I think McDuffie’s got a real shot. Skyy Moore — you know he got injured today — but he’s very promising, too. McDuffie did it in college, [but] Skyy really didn’t do it. So he’s kind of a work in progress. Every time he’s out there, he’s getting better and better. “
For the moment, however, the team’s most-senior receiver remains in the mix.
“Hardman right now, obviously — then we’re going to try to work McDuffie in and Skyy. We need to get somebody else doing it because if Mecole is getting a lot of reps — as much as Tyreek did — we’ve got to cut him back a little bit. We really need to establish a couple more guys.”
Toub also confirmed that running back Isiah Pacheco — a seventh-round selection in April — will be the first man up returning kickoffs.
“We’re going to start him off as the guy and see if he can handle it,” he said of the Rutgers product. “See how he does in the preseason. In a few games, we’ll be able to know right away. He’s promising. He’s a big guy — 215 plus. Ran [a] 4:37 [40-yard dash]. That’s kind of scary back there if we can get that thing going. We used Pringle that way. We think we can do that with Pacheco.”
Toub also highlighted a number of other players who have impressed him in special teams practices — which is often a pretty reliable indicator of a player’s chance to make the 53-man roster.
He praised rookie safety Bryan Cook’s effort on coverage teams. He also identified safety Deon Bush — and linebackers Elijah Lee and Jermaine Carter Jr. — as players who are available to help rebuild his unit.
Two returning players who appear to be benefiting from their experience with Toub are wide receiver Daurice Fountain and tight end Noah Gray.
“Fountain’s a guy that we’re going to rely on,” he predicted. “Him and Gray. These are carryover guys. Gray, he was a four-phase guy for us. So we’re counting on him to be a guy. He’s doing outstanding.”
Toub also praised the efforts of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Justin Watson, a free-agent signing who has generated some offseason buzz.
“Watson is a guy who might able to take Kemp’s spot in a lot of things,” he explained. “He’s doing well on offense, which is important.
“You can tell he’s a leader. He’s not a vocal leader, but a leader by example. He knows how important special teams is for him as a player. He’s not going to be a No. 1 or No. 2 guy, but he knows how important it is to be a guy. He can do a lot of things. He can catch punts, but he’s not a guy that we want to rely on to take it the distance. He’s more of a blocker-type guy for us.”
Though facing a high level of roster turnover, the veteran special teams coach does not need to worry about his three specialists. Kicker Harrison Butker, punter Tommy Townsend and long snapper James Winchester face no competition for their jobs.
“Those three guys — I’m fortunate those guys are back,” Toub declared. “I don’t have to really worry about those guys. I can spend more time with the core guys — where most of my time needs to be spent.
“With Tommy, [we want] a little more consistency. Butker? I’m not going to mess with Butker; he’s doing well. His leg strength looks real good right now. He hit three [field goals] over 50 yesterday; had a real good day. Winchester just keeps getting better every year. He’s a great cover guy — and a great leader for us.”