Kansas City has several new players in whom the special teams coach sees promise — and a veteran who makes him crazy.
As the Kansas City Chiefs head into their final preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings at Arrowhead Stadium on Friday night — and the final cutdown to the 53-man roster next Tuesday — many questions remain about the team’s kick and punt returners. Special teams coordinator Dave Toub said that they would continue to look at many of them.
“The good thing is that we have a lot of guys to choose from, and we can really get a good look at guys,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “We’ve been getting a lot of returns, so it’s been good for us.”
After the preseason’s first game against the San Francisco 49ers, Toub spoke highly of two new Chiefs: former Blue Springs High School standout Darrius Shepherd — who then collected 33 yards on two returns against the Arizona Cardinals on Friday night — along with former Vikings cornerback Mike Hughes, who continued to draw praise from Kansas City’s special-teams guru.
“Mike is a very, very good catcher,” said Toub on Tuesday. “He’s a talented returner. He gets up the field north-and-south; he looks for that north-and-south right away — whereas he could probably press the edges a little bit more. He’s talented — and we like what we see in him going forward.”
But Toub made headlines when he spoke of a returner who doesn’t play in quite the same way: Demarcus Robinson, who gained only five yards in two punt returns against the Cardinals on Friday night — mostly from moving east-and-west.
“He drives me nuts a little bit,” said Toub of the sixth-year wide receiver, drawing laughter from reporters. “He really does, to be honest. And he knows it. I’d like to see him catch it and keep the ball close to his body. He doesn’t do that. I’d like to see him get north-and-south. He doesn’t do that. Those are things we talk about all the time.”
But Toub also said that Robinson still brings some positives to the table.
“He’s a great ‘make-you-miss’ guy — probably nobody better — but he’s got to learn to get up the field,” he remarked. “He’s a good catcher — so in an emergency situation, you could use him as a guy that can get you through a game. But as an every-down guy, he’s got a ways to go.”
As we reported on Tuesday, Toub is also high on another new Chief (and former Viking): 29-year-old running back Jerick McKinnon, who turned in an impressive 22-yard kick return against the Cardinals. He might be the most intriguing new face — if only because of his experience and versatility.
“We spent a lot of time with him at the combine,” recalled offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy during his turn with reporters on Tuesday. “He was one of those players that did everything. I think he played a little option quarterback, he played running back [and] he played defensive back — so we’ve had him on our radar for a while. But he’s a savvy veteran that’s just very good at a lot of things — and that’s the thing that makes him valuable because he brings a tremendous amount of experience.”
And that’s exactly the kind of skill set the Chiefs seek in their returners — because they are most likely to serve as reserves. The team’s most recent unofficial depth chart still lists Mecole Hardman as the primary kick and punt returner — as Toub noted after the first preseason game.
“The thought process is that I know what Mecole can do,” he explained. “We’ve got to evaluate the guys that are down [the roster]. You can’t ever tell how many kick returns you’re going to get — so if you want to see a guy, you’d better put him in there.”
So that’s what he’ll do — one more time — on Friday night.