Seven games into the 2023 NFL season, Kansas City Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub has come under fire. His squad has been duped by a handful of forgeries — and has had one of its own go wrong. But those are the plays that most spectators will see; most good special teams plays go unnoticed.
Toub’s unit is back to being one of the finest in the league. It is presently rated second in DVOA for special teams. During last Sunday’s 31-17 victory against the Los Angeles Chargers, newly-reacquired wide receiver Mecole Hardman went back to doing what he did best during his four years in Kansas City: catching passes.
Hardman ripped off a 50-yard punt return with 6:32 remaining in the game, putting the Chiefs in business at the Los Angeles 35-yard line. Six plays later, quarterback Patrick Mahomes sealed the game with an 8-yard touchdown pass to running back Isiah Pacheco.
“It’s good to have him back,” Toub told reporters on Thursday. “He’s got a lot of juice out there. He’s obviously [got] a little bit more speed than we’ve had — and he’s got a lot of experience back there.”
“He’s gonna be emphasized in practices from this point forward,” said Toub. “He’s a good catcher, you know. Is he the best catcher in the world? No. But he’s a good catcher — and he’s smart enough to know [that] if he’s out of position, [he should] let the damn thing go — you know what I mean?”
“But [at] certain times, you’ve got to go back and get it,” added the coach. “When they over-kick your coverage — [when] you’re running away from the coverage — you’ve got to go get it.”
Toub is keeping a careful eye on the weather prediction for Sunday’s rematch with the Denver Broncos, which includes the chance of snow and temps in the 20s. Toub believes that the weather will virtually obliterate what they see when playing at 5,000 feet above sea level.
“That’s what I’ve been telling the guys,” he revealed. “That extra five yards you get for the altitude? With the cold weather? Pfft! Gone. So we look to possibly get more returns — kick returns for us and for them.”
There’s one other potential issue. On Thursday, placekicker Harrison Butker missed practice with an illness. So safety Justin Reid — who spelled Butker for some placekicking and kickoffs when Butker was injured last season — worked with the other specialists on Thursday.
Toub believes that Butker will be available to play — but as long as there is a question, Reid needs to be ready. “If we knew that [Butker] was going to be out [for a long time], we’d want another kicker,” Toub acknowledged. “I feel comfortable that Justin could come in — but you want a real kicker in that situation.”
Toub is confident in Reid — but that confidence extends only so far. “He’s good enough to get us through a game,” said Toub. “He can make an extra point.” But pressed for a more specific characterization of Reid’s skill, Toub ran up the white flag.
“If he wanted to be a kicker at the NFL level? I don’t think he could do it,” said Toub with a smile — as reporters laughed. “I love him — but he will understand why I am saying that. He’s a good safety.”