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Dave Toub reveals Chiefs now competing for kick return roles in 2023

Kansas City’s longtime special teams coordinator had a year to forget in 2022 — but at least it ended well.

Los Angeles Chargers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

Last season wasn’t a very good one for the Kansas City Chiefs’ special teams coordinator Dave Toub. His unit — typically among the league’s best since he came aboard with head coach Andy Reid in 2013 — had come to depend on a number of key veteran contributors. Many of those players were replaced by rookies in 2022.

But coaches like Toub spend their whole careers making do with the players at the bottom of a team’s roster, so it pays to remain philosophical about it.

“Everything goes in cycles,” Toub told reporters after Thursday’s OTA session at the team’s practice facility. “Last year, we had the cycle of young players. They did a great job; they got better and better as the year went on — and then, obviously in the playoffs, we were reaching our peak.

“It took a while there, but we were playing good football then — when we needed to. All those guys are back. They’re going to be that much better. And now we got a new group of young players coming in. So as a group, I predict that we’ll be better right from the start.”

Among young players who have impressed Toub are undrafted free-agent running back Deneric Prince, who reminds the coach of another Houston-area native who spent time returning kicks in Kansas City.

“He reminds me so much — if you guys remember Knile Davis — he reminds me of Knile,” said Toub. “He has the same number. [He] didn’t do it in college, but he’s showing traits right now that remind me so much of Knile [that] it’s kind of scary.”

Prince reminds running backs coach Todd Pinkston of yet another Chiefs running back — but this one is a New Jersey native who is still on the team: second-year player Isiah Pacheco.

“[There’s] a little similarity, because you see those guys running so hard,” he observed. “When Pacheco came in at training camp last year, you see a lot of similarities: running hard, running fast, running viciously or whatever. But the similarity is definitely there.”

Toub also has a couple of newly-signed veterans he expects will have opportunities as returners. One of them is a former New York Giants player who is not named Kadarius Toney.

“Richie James is a guy that’s got experience,” noted Toub. “[He] did it in NFL games — which is huge, as we know. He’s definitely in the mix.”

Another player working in the returner group is another former Giant (and a first-round draft pick): John Ross. The oft-injured wideout has appeared in just 37 games over a five-year NFL career — 10 of them in 2022 when he was dressed for a career-high 15 games for New York.

“He’s another guy that’s got great speed,” said Toub. “[He] had injury problems at Cincinnati — but if he can stay healthy, he’s definitely in the mix. He’s probably one of our fastest players back there.”

Toub said that second-year wideout Skyy Moore — along with last season’s practice-squad receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette — are also competing for returning opportunities. Toub expects drafted defensive backs Chamarri Conner and Nic Jones to be special-teams contributors — and undrafted free-agent linebackers Isaiah Moore and Cam Jones have also caught his eye.

Toub also expects big things from a returning special-teams contributor.

“Toward the end of the year, Nazeeh Johnson — as a gunner — was playing better than anybody in the league,” he bragged. “So I’m excited about him. He’ll probably be your No. 1 gunner coming in the next year.”

By any reasonable standard, 2022 was a year that Toub would rather forget. But he’s happy to remember that it ended on a high note for his players — one that helped turn the championship game in Kansas City’s favor.

“We had a tough year, you know, throughout the year, with the muffs and young players making dumb mistakes — and me coming out in front of the media every week saying, ‘We’re going to get better, we’re going to get better,’” he recalled ruefully. “And then a little bit of redemption — obviously — in the championship game with Skyy.

“I felt so good for him that he was able to have two big returns for us and help us win that game. And then the punt return in the Super Bowl with Kadarius was huge. And it was good for the whole group.”

Toub isn’t the only one hoping that the unit’s Super Bowl performance will carry forward into 2023.

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