Found: Something the KC Chiefs do well
The lowly Kansas City Chiefs are one of the best in football when it's time to put foot to ball.
Yes, the team that's 5-32 in the last 37 games has discovered something it's good at. Under the direction of first-year special teams coach Steve Hoffman, the Chiefs (3-9) have made giant strides in both punt and kickoff coverage, ranking in the top 10 in both.
They're pretty good in returning kickoffs, too, at ninth in the league with 25 returns of 20 yards or more.
In addition, punter Dustin Colquitt is having a terrific season. After struggling much of last year with various injuries, Colquitt is fourth in the league with a net average of 41.36 yards per punt. He leads the NFL with 32 boots coming to rest inside the 20 and is on pace to tie the NFL record with 42 inside the 20.
His kicking partner, Ryan Succop, may turn out to be one of the greatest Mr. Irrelevant picks in history. Always calm and serene, confident and unflappable, the last man taken in the 2009 draft has made 18 of 22 field goals and leads all rookies with 72 points.
He kicked the game-winner in a 27-24 overtime victory over Pittsburgh and is looking like the answer to Kansas City's long-festering problem at place kicker.
When Hoffman scouted him at South Carolina last year, he liked Succop's demeanor almost as much as his leg.
``He just has a certain calmness about him,'' said Hoffman. ``It's the thing you try to look for when you're out scouting kickers. A lot of them have the leg strength and the talent to do it. But the thing you have to try do is sift through that and find the guy you think will hold up under the pressures of the NFL. And when I went to work him out, he struck me as a guy who could do it.''
To tell the truth, Succop never expected to be drafted at all.
``When I did get drafted, it was a pleasant surprise,'' he said. ``I didn't look at it as being last. I looked at it as an opportunity, as a blessing. It gave me a shot to come in and make a team this year. I never looked at it like, `Oh, no, I'm the last guy picked. Now I won't have an opportunity to have a career.'''
Succop's consistently powerful leg is a major reason the kickoff coverage average has jumped from 22nd to 10th. Plus, his 18 field goals are the second-most by a Chiefs rookie.
Under Hoffman's tutelage, the kicking units have consistently made plays all year while Todd Haley's offense and Clancy Pendergast's defense have stumbled at times. Jamaal Charles had a 97-yard kickoff return in the big win over the Steelers and safety Jon McGraw blocked a kick and recovered the ball for a touchdown against Baltimore.
Hoffman, a 20-year NFL veteran who is getting his first opportunity as a special teams coach, works closely with Colquitt and Succop. Both swear by him.
``Coach Hoffman is very knowledgeable about kickers and punters,'' said Succop. ``He's really helped me refine my technique.''
Colquitt, a third-round pick out of Tennessee in 2005, has a 38.94 career net average that is second in the NFL since the 1970 merger with the AFL.
``Talking to coach Hoffman is like reading an encyclopedia of kicking,'' said Colquitt. ``I really do enjoy working with him.''
The secret to Hoffman's success may be knowing what not to say when his devoted students strain to hear every word.
``You can get them a little stronger. You can tinker with their technique and get them to hit the ball more consistently,'' he said. ``But I've never tried to mess with their mental part of it other than just how they're approaching the pressures of the game. I try to stay away from the mental part.''