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Big return jolts confidence for rookie Devon Wylie

Posted Aug 16, 2012

Wylie has impressed since Friday’s preseason opener


St. Joseph, Mo. – It couldn’t have been kicked to a sweeter spot. Arizona punter Dave Zastudil punted it low and down the right hashmark, ensuring that the ball came to the returner before the Cardinals did.

With one block, special teams coach Tom McMahon knew this could be the type of bring-back that Devon Wylie spent four years perfecting at Fresno State.

The rookie got the block he needed, cut across the field, and was off to the races. And an animated McMahon followed him, sprinting down the home sideline and behind his returner for all 32 yards of his third quarter return.

“I couldn’t hear him during the return,” remembered Wylie about the play, “But when I saw (the return) on tape I could tell he was just excited as I was.”

An obvious and neck-wrenching facemask prevented Wylie from notching his first score as a professional player. But the rookie popped back up to his feet as a new player – one that’s capable of a game-changing play on special teams or elsewhere.

The Chiefs have lacked that extra element for some time. McMahon inherited a unit that was 8th in the NFL last season in punt return yards, but hasn’t notched a touchdown since Dexter McCluster’s season-opening scamper against the Chargers in 2010. And only the Indianapolis Colts – the leagues’ worst team last year – averaged worse starting field position than the Chiefs in 2011.

After a fairly quiet start to training camp, Wylie could be the guy to improve those statistics. After all, he earned the nickname “Wiggles” at Fresno State for his ability to squirm away from defenders on game-breaking runs.

“Wiggles” has been hard to miss since that big return. He had his best day as a Chiefs player with two more electrifying plays this week.

He turned on the afterburners on his first punt return of the day. Unlike Zastudil’s punt, this one of the foot of Dustin Colquitt pinned Wylie in between the right hashmark and the right sideline. Wylie cradled it, ran laterally to the center of the field for a middle return, and waited for his cut.

Wylie picked his moment perfectly. He cut past a diving defender, turned up field, and tapped into a new gear as he sprinted past the coverage team and Colquitt for a touchdown.

Wylie’s skills were put to the test as a receiver as well. In the 11-on-11 drills that closed practice earlier this week, quarterback Ricky Stanzi was flushed out of the pocket and had to roll to his right. He pointed at Wylie to turn his crossing route upfield, and Wylie spun to the corner of the end zone when Stanzi lofted up a pass.

The end result was a leaping, one-armed reception over cornerback Jacques Reeves that outshined Jonanthan Baldwin’s highlight-reel grab a few plays earlier.

“It felt good to have a good day (returning punts),” said Wylie. “I still have some technique things to work on, but I’d like to say that my confidence is improving.”

That work will come mostly at slot receiver, where Wylie will need to master how to break away from tight coverage in a limited amount of space. But on special team, his improving technique could soon match his breakaway speed and elusiveness.

When it does, McMahon could be chasing more and more of Wylie’s breakout punt returns down the sideline and into the end zone.