- Adam Teicher, ESPN Staff Writer
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ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- The punt that rookie De’Anthony Thomas returned 80 yards for a touchdown in the Kansas City Chiefs’ preseason opener last week guarantees him nothing when the regular season begins on Sept. 7 against Tennessee.
But in the bigger picture, it’s not meaningless that Thomas, returning a punt for the first time in an NFL game, scored a touchdown. That kind of thing can provide benefits for the Chiefs and Thomas on Sept. 7 and beyond.
“It’s very meaningful for him,’’ special teams coordinator Dave Toub said. “He’s a rookie. He went in there, and he showed a lot of courage. Those are the things we wanted to see. He showed a lot of courage catching the ball. He took a good hit and still held on to the ball, didn’t go down, kept his balance. Once he’s able to get in the open field you can see how dangerous he is.
“It was good for everybody’s confidence. It’s going to lift us up. Guys will block even harder next time.’’
The Chiefs, in their first season with Toub as their coordinator, established themselves in 2013 as among the league’s best teams in the kicking game. They scored four touchdowns on kick returns and set an NFL record for average kickoff return.
Already, they’re serving notice that won’t change. Thomas is replacing Dexter McCluster, who made the Pro Bowl last year as a punt returner but moved to the Titans as a free agent.
The immediate success of two rookie kick returners makes it look like the Chiefs can plug anyone into those spots and fare well. That’s an oversimplification, but it is true that Toub seems to have the magic touch with returners.
Before joining the Chiefs, he coached special teams for the Chicago Bears for nine seasons. The Bears scored 22 touchdowns on kick returns in that time, and they weren’t all the work of Devin Hester -- but six different players.
There’s no question that in Kansas City, Thomas and Davis are talented kick returners. That’s particularly true for Thomas, who can make the first defender miss and showed his world-class speed on last week’s touchdown.
But with Toub as their coach, the Chiefs might have a good return specialist no matter who they put back there to shag the kicks.