There seems to be no stopping the Chiefs’ return game
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There aren’t many teams in the NFL that can punish opponents with their return game the way the Chiefs can.
Well, actually, there aren’t any at all, not after the Chiefs returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns Sunday.
The Chiefs now have four special teams returns for touchdowns — best in the NFL.
Perhaps even more remarkable, the Chiefs have three different return men who have scored — Dexter McCluster, Quintin Demps and Knile Davis.
“And, really, there are a couple of other guys who could be doing it, too,” coach Andy Reid says.
Talk to anyone around the Chiefs’ training facility and there is one simple answer for the Chiefs’ incredible success on returns: coach Dave Toub.
Toub, who mentored Devin Hester in Chicago into becoming one of the greatest return men of all time, came to Kansas City with a guru reputation. He hasn’t disappointed.
“He’s a great guy with great schemes,” McCluster says. “He watches so much film. He probably wakes up in the morning and watches film in the bathroom.”
And, of course, the kind of success the Chiefs’ return units are experiencing also requires a fair amount of player talent.
Toub inherited McCluster, already known for his special skills in the open field. Demps, too, showed return skills in previous stops in Philadelphia and Houston.
Davis, however, was the relative novice.
“He’s a guy that Dave groomed and taught,” Reid says.
Davis is a quick learner. He has a 35.4-yard kickoff-return average, bolstered by a 108-yard return for a touchdown.
Demps pushed his average to 30.5 thanks to a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown Sunday.
And then there’s McCluster, who already had an 89-yard punt return for a score this season before his 74-yard touchdown Sunday.
“It’s a tribute to the players and the coaches and the schemes the coaches put in,” Reid says. “And there is the trust the players have in the system. They all want to make it work.”
Each returner seems to possess a unique skill set.
McCluster is the dancer with the ability to juke through and past a host of defenders.
Davis is all speed and power.
Demps sort of combines all those skills into one.
“I think it is like a change of pace with all of us,” Demps says. “I’m kind of the ‘tweener between those two guys.”
The trio has carried on a tradition of return specialists who have excelled in a Chiefs uniform dating to Noland Smith, the 5-foot-5 returner known as Super Gnat who terrorized opponents in the late 1960s.
The tradition continued with great returners such as Tamarick Vanover in the ’90s and the amazing Dante Hall last decade.
“I have heard of them,” Demps says. “When you say Dante Hall, that’s the guy I’ve heard about the most. Dynamic, explosive.”
McCluster, too, is aware of the tradition. But he’s more than ready to do even greater things.
“There have been a lot of guys before me,” McCluster says. “I know they were great guys and great returners, but I’m looking forward to the things I can do.”
That’s music to the ears of Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith.
“I mean, what’s not to like about what they’ve done for us this year?” Smith says, smiling. “It’s such a game-changer, such a momentum changer, when you get returns like that. They have been exceptional.”
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter @jflanagankc or email firstname.lastname@example.org.