Special Teams: Return Game and Punting

Dante Hall was simply special last year for Kansas City and was the star of the Special Teams. He scored six times on special teams and is one of the best in the game. In this pre-season report, <i>Warpaint</i> looks at the punting battle taking place in River Falls as well as both sides of the return game.

The Chiefs have signed two punters this off-season in Leo Araguz and Jason Baker. Both players can handle the kickoff duties but each player has shown very little outside of Morten Anderson's range to this date. They primarily need to punt the ball better in 2003 and no one has a lock on the position. The five pre-season games will determine the punter.

Neither is all that impressive as far as their career statistics go, but if they can have good hang time and learn to kick the ball out of bounds inside the twenty yard line, then all fans and Chiefs coaches will be happy.

One question to ponder: Why don't punters don't kick the ball out of bounds like Jerrell Wilson and Ray Guy did back in the 60's, 70's & 80's? Why give the team you are kicking to even a remote chance for a long run back?

For Kansas City fans, they are glad that practice is not employed all that often and that Dante Hall is on the active roster. Hall emerged as one of the Chiefs best weapons last season and coach Dick Vermeil loved this guy. He knew he could be special and the Chiefs saw his ability he returned six kicks and or punts back for touchdowns in 2002. He had one of each against the Rams at Arrowhead last year.

What's amazing about him was that all of those returns were at least 74 yards in length. They were game busters and Hall can score a touchdown from anywhere on the field. He is vastly improved as a receiver and that helped him get a feel for the game. He was just the team's Designated Hitter but he excelled with increased playing time beyond special teams.

The Chiefs don't have anyone to back up Hall, though wide receiver Eddie Kennison has done the job in the NFL and college so an injury to Hall would not be total devastation. Cornerback Corey Harris also is listed on the depth chart, but it's not likely that he will ever be used in that capacity.

The other special teams key for the Chiefs will be the continued perfection of deep snapper Kendall Gammon who might be among the best to ever play the position in the NFL. Gammon always fights the Chiefs at contract times but he eventually signs and the Chiefs could not be happier.

Back-up quarterback Todd Collins handles the holding duties on field goal attempts and he's done a great job in the past. He has sure hands and is always a threat to tuck the ball up under his wing and pitch it down field on a trick play.

The 2002 Chiefs struggled at times defending returns. Too many teams had big gains against the special team squads and part of the problem was due to injuries and a lack of focus.

To address that problem the Chiefs signed wide receiver Dameane Douglas who is an amazing performer at getting down the field and making tackles on punts and kickoffs. Another solid performer was then rookie linebacker Scott Fujita. He often saved touchdowns with his blazing speed when the opposing team's return man broke the initial containment.

Special teams is hard because players have assignments or lanes in which they have to stay in, but that philosophy does not always work. Wide receiver Marc Boerigter, Tony Richardson and Gary Stills have been solid on special teams but the Chiefs need to develop a couple more tacklers as those three will be making more contributions on offense and defense.

Two candidates might come from the recent 2003 draft. Rookie Cornerback Julian Battle from Tennessee and Linebacker Kawika Mitchell from South Florida are primed to be in position to upgrade the special teams units.

Mitchell will be slowed somewhat with a hamstring but Battle, who will someday be a star on defense, can really contribute in his rookie season by becoming a key tackler.

One thing that I'd like to see is the Chiefs being more aggressive blocking punts and field goals. With big Ryan Sims in the middle, the Chiefs should use R-Kal Truluck along side him to use his athletic skills and get those long arms in the air to try and block field goals. On punt coverage, I'd like to see Julian Battle and Gary Stills rushing from each end to put pressure on the punter with Scott Fujita coming up the middle.

As long as the Chiefs don't get lazy in the areas where they excelled last season and make moderate improvements where they had shortcomings in 2002, these units should add points to the scoreboard without allowing too many coming back at them.

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