Kansas City Chiefs: Dave Toub

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 Chiefs will use Knile Davis as their main kickoff return specialist. But another rookie, Albert Wilson, had a 65-yard kickoff return in last week’s game.

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.
On to this week's questions for the Kansas City Chiefs mailbag (@adamteicher):


Success again follows Toub

January, 17, 2014
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- This won't come as a surprise to anyone who watched them play this season, but the Kansas City Chiefs had one of the best special teams groups in the NFL.

The Dallas Morning News annually ranks all of the 32 special teams based on various statistical categories. The Chiefs came in third behind only the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers. By the way, if you've ever wondered about the importance of the kicking game, please note that both the Patriots and 49ers will play in their respective conference championship games on Sunday.

The Chiefs led the league (and set an NFL record) in kickoff return average, punts downed inside the 20-yard line and special teams touchdowns.

The Chiefs were 23rd in this ranking in 2012. They added some key special teams players, new kickoff returners in Quintin Demps and Knile Davis and used Dexter McCluster more as the punt returner. But the real reason for the improvement on special teams was the addition of Dave Toub as special teams coordinator.

Toub's special teams won the ranking twice during his years with the Chicago Bears. So expect the Chiefs to excel on special teams as long as coach Andy Reid is able to keep Toub as a coordinator.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs have a new set of kickoff returners in Quintin Demps and Knile Davis and a bunch of different blockers from 2012, but the biggest change in their return unit is in the attitude instilled by first-year special-teams coordinator Dave Toub.

The Chiefs aren’t afraid to bring a kickoff out of the end zone in any situation regardless of how deep it might go. Only 38 percent of the kickoffs received by the Chiefs went for a touchback, the third-lowest percentage in the league.

While Demps and Davis and the blockers have played well, the Chiefs set an NFL record for kickoff return average at 29.9 yards because of their aggressive attitude.

“We come out a lot,’’ Toub said. “We come out deep, so that’s also another factor. Other teams might not come out where we come out. I think that’s all part of [the record].”

Kickoff return averages have dwindled in recent years. The record set by this year’s Chiefs was previously held by the 1972 Chicago Bears. The other teams in the top five by season average are the 1952 Pittsburgh Steelers, 1962 Washington Redskins and 1972 Baltimore Colts.

The Chiefs bucked that trend in a big way. Davis averaged 32.1 yards on 10 returns, including a 108-yard touchdown against the Denver Broncos.

Demps had enough returns to qualify for the league lead and finished third at 30.1 yards. He also scored a touchdown, a 95-yarder against the Washington Redskins.

“It’s such a long season and you get negative returns,’’ Toub said, explaining what the Chiefs were able to avoid. “You’ll get tackled for a 10-yard return. We’re consistently getting that ball out 25 yards and then occasionally will hit 50, and we’re able to keep it up there and it doesn’t sizzle out. That’s why I’m so proud of that because we had some good kickoff return teams at the Bears, but we never really came close to that average number.”

Succop has earned another chance

January, 1, 2014
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Kansas City Chiefs are staying with the struggling Ryan Succop as their placekicker for Saturday’s wild-card round playoff game against the Colts in Indianapolis. Succop has earned the right to keep kicking for the Chiefs and don’t be surprised if he eventually rewards the Chiefs for his patience.

“He knows he needs to get everybody’s confidence back,’’ special teams coach Dave Toub said. “Coaches, players. He just needs to make a bunch of kicks in a row here now. These ones coming up in the playoffs, they’re critical.’’

Succop has missed three of his last four field goal attempts, none more critical than the 41-yarder try he sent wide to the right in the final seconds of the fourth quarter last Sunday in San Diego. The kick would have won the game for the Chiefs.

Instead, the game went to overtime, where it was won by the Chargers.

Succop started the season making 21 of his 24 field goal attempts before his recent slump.

“He needs to focus on this (next) kick,’’ Toub said. “Those other kicks are gone. We know he was thinking about those other (failed) kicks.’’

Succop has hit plenty of clutch kicks for the Chiefs in his five seasons. He is tough-minded enough to overcome his recent problems.

“He’s set all-time records here in Kansas City,’’ said punter Dustin Colquitt, who holds on field goal attempts. “He’s obviously one of the better kickers that’s ever played here. He’s exceptional inside 40. He hits a lot of field goals in cold weather games and windy games here at Arrowhead. He kicks off better than anybody I’ve ever played with.

“He’s been in good spirits. You’ve got to have a thick skin to play in this league whether you’re a quarterback or a kicker or anything in between. He’s doing (well). He hit all of his kicks (Tuesday).’’
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The NFL single-season team record for combined kickoff and punt return touchdowns is six, a goal that may be out of reach this year for the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs have four such touchdowns.

But after scoring twice in last week's win over the Washington Redskins, the Chiefs haven't given up hope.

"Once you score, it kind of feeds off itself," special-teams coordinator Dave Toub said. "The guys really start buying in and they want to get 'em into the end zone. We have three guys that can do it and ... it's really paying off for us right now."

Toub was also the kicking game coach for the team that set the six-touchdown record, the 2007 Chicago Bears. That team got its six TDs (four punts, two kickoffs) from one player, Devin Hester.

The Chiefs go three-deep with Quintin Demps and Knile Davis on kickoffs and Dexter McCluster returning punts. Demps and Davis each have one touchdown return this season, McCluster two.

Having a pair of kickoff returners is an advantage for the Chiefs beyond just depth in case of an injury. Davis returned a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown two weeks against the Denver Broncos. Demps brought one back 95 yards for a score last week against the Redskins.

"It creates problems for the other team," Toub said. "They have different styles. Quintin likes to press the edges and look for the cutbacks. Knile can probably do that, too, but he can hit it right up the field and he runs so hard and so strong with his knees up, running back-style, that he's really hard to tackle that way."

The Chiefs this year reclaimed McCluster off the punt return scrap heap. He scored a touchdown on a return in his first NFL game in 2010 but the Chiefs didn't use him much as a returner the past couple of seasons.

"I saw a guy who was dynamic," Toub said. "I saw the ability to make people miss. They didn't use him. I think they were trying to keep him fresh or protect him for the offense. I'm happy that Andy allows him to [return punts]."

The Chiefs face the Raiders on Sunday in Oakland. The Raiders have allowed one punt return for a touchdown this season and are near the bottom of the league in punt return average allowed.

Kickoff returns could be more problematic. More than 64 percent of Sebastian Janikowski's kickoffs have ended in touchbacks for Oakland this season.

But, as Davis showed with his long kickoff return against the Broncos, the Chiefs aren't afraid to bring out a kick from deep in the end zone.

"We'll bring 'em out," Toub said. "We like to create. We want to put pressure on the kickoff [coverage] team. Our confidence is high right now."
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Kansas City Chiefs needed all the points they could get in last week’s game against the high-scoring Broncos in Denver. But they made the proper decision in not having kicker Ryan Succop try a 64-yard field goal at the end of the first half.

In similar future situations, they should pass again.

The Chiefs sent Succop and the field goal team on the field for the last play of the half while trailing 17-10. They weren’t certain where the ball would be spotted because of a Denver penalty on the previous play.

Once they saw it would be a 64-yard attempt, they bailed. The Chiefs brought Succop and the field goal team back to the sideline and sent the offense on the field in its place.

The Chiefs weren’t necessarily afraid of the long kick. It was probably out of Succop’s range, but Denver’s altitude would have given it a chance.

They weren’t necessarily afraid of having a kick blocked because of the low trajectory a long kick requires. Succop had a 57-yard attempt blocked earlier this season against the Dallas Cowboys.

What the Chiefs feared, and what made the decision to not kick the field goal the right one, was that the Broncos sent Trindon Holliday back to return a possible short field goal. Holliday has returned a pair of kicks for touchdowns this season.

The thought of having a bunch of offensive linemen on the field to block for the kick trying to chase down Holliday if Succop missed was too much for the Chiefs to bear.

“That’s not a good situation to be in,’’ Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub said.

“I’d love to have a team try those long ones (against the Chiefs). We’d throw Dexter (McCluster) back there in that kind of situation. We have a return that we would run. It puts a lot of stress on the field goal unit when you try something like that. You’ve got to know you’d make it.’’
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kickoff return specialist Quintin Demps admitted to being more than a little envious last week when he noticed that the Minnesota VikingsCordarelle Patterson brought back a kick 109 yards for a touchdown.

"I wish I could go 110," Demps said.

That’s not possible. But that hasn’t stopped Demps from attempting to return kickoffs from deep in the end zone. Generally speaking, he’s been rewarded for his fearlessness. Demps is fourth in the NFL in kickoff return average and the Kansas City Chiefs are fourth in the league in average starting field position after a kickoff.

Occasionally, Demps will get caught inside the 20 on kickoff returns, but his decision-making is generally solid and he should continue with his bold choices on returns.

Demps said he’s following the orders of special teams coordinator Dave Toub.

“Coach told us to be aggressive, me and (punt returner Dexter McCluster)," Demps said. “That’s what I’m doing, being aggressive. It’s kind of the flow of the game. Sometimes I won’t bring it out, sometimes I will, depending on whether we need a spark or not.

“With the new rule, you have no option. Otherwise, you’d be taking a knee every time."

Demps was referring to the rule that put the spot of the kickoffs back to the 40. Many kickoffs go into the end zone, some deep into the end zone. Some teams aren’t shy about bringing some of those out and the Chiefs are one of them.

“If it’s nine (yards) deep and he’s chasing the ball or going backward or he has to run laterally far for the ball and he knows that’s taking too much time, he’s going to stay in," Toub said. “But if it’s a low trajectory ball and he’s getting it sometime eight or nine yards deep, he knows the coverage is not all the way down there, we’re going to come out with those.’’

Occasionally, Demps hasn’t made it out to the 20. Short of that, the decision to leave the end zone is a bad one. The Chiefs started last week’s game against the Cleveland Browns on their 12 after Demps returned the kick from six yards deep.

"That was because of (lousy) blocking," Toub said. "That was not because Demps came out. It wasn’t his decision that hurt us."

Chiefs shouldn't give up on Davis

September, 26, 2013
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Among offensive players for the Kansas City Chiefs, few have big-play ability like rookie running back Knile Davis. He returned one kickoff 109 yards and another 79 yards during the preseason, an indication of what he can do once he gets the ball into his hands.

That's been the trick for Davis. Between his botched kickoff returns, dropped passes and fumbles, Davis has tested the patience of the Chiefs. At no time was that more in evidence that Davis' fumbled kickoff return in the final moments of a recent game against Dallas, with the Chiefs holding a one-point lead.

Davis eventually recovered on the play. But he wasn't asked to return a kickoff in last week's game against Philadelphia. Special teams coordinator Dave Toub said the Chiefs haven't given up on Davis as a return specialist and that he could get some chances in Sunday's game against the New York Giants at Arrowhead Stadium.

“I still feel comfortable with him," Toub said. "He’s very dangerous after the catch. We can’t be deterred just because he put one on the ground. We still have a lot of confidence in him. He keeps working. He gets a lot of kickoffs in practice. He just needs more experience in the games. He got a little anxious, tried to take off a little bit and that’s usually when the ball goes on the ground.

“He’s going to be a real good returner for us. We just have to get him in there in the right spots."

That's the key. The Chiefs need to be using Davis when they need a big return. Their offense doesn't generate a lot of big plays, so the field position he can generate is something they can frequently use.

But the Chiefs don't need to use Davis when ball security is the only thing that matters. When they're leading a game by one point in the fourth quarter, it's the only thing that matters on a kickoff return. At that point, the Chiefs should go with Quintin Demps, Dexter McCluster or someone other than Davis.