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Chiefs in Focus: Spotlight on the Specialists

Posted Aug 3, 2014

In this series we’ll take an in-depth look at each positional group of the Kansas City Chiefs; today is the specialists

The Kansas City Chiefs had four special teams touchdowns in 2013 from three different players, two of which are not on the roster this season.

With new personnel with different skillsets and abilities, the Chiefs special teams unit will try and replicate, if not improve upon, a successful 2013 season.

Known as one of the best special teams coaches in the NFL for the better part of his 14-year career, coach Dave Toub came to Kansas City via Chicago and has proven why he’s been given that reputation.

A key storyline since the beginning of training camp has been at kicker, where veteran Ryan Succop is competing with rookie Cairo Santos, the undrafted free agent from Tulane.

Toub explains his thoughts on bringing in competition for the specialists every year.

“Every year we try to bring at least one, whether it’s a punter, long snapper or kicker,” Toub said. “We try to bring a guy in that’s high caliber to push the guys that are here and we certainly have one with Cairo [Santos].

“I’ve said this before, I think he’s an NFL-caliber kicker. I think he’s going to be in the NFL, whether it’s on our team or another team. The competition is real and we’re excited about Cairo and what he’s able to bring.”

In his five-year career, Succop has made 119-of-147 field goals, which is an 81-percent success rate.

In Santos’ career at Tulane, he hit 61-of-78 field goals, a 78-percent success rate.

But as Toub said, the competition is real and if the new guy wins the job, that’s part of the deal.

“If he wins the job, we feel good,” Toub said. “That’s what it’s about. That’s what training camp is about and the preseason games, we’re going to find out who is the best guy and go with it.”

In speaking with him after practice, Succop says it’s about supporting and helping one another improve every day.

“Camp has gone really well so far,” Succop said. “I think every day we’re all for working on perfecting our craft, working on getting better and I think we’re seeing that which is good, which is positive. Obviously we’re all here to support each other, to push each other and that’s kind of what’s neat about our group is we’re kind of battling from within, which is cool.”

While the competition on the field is real, the relationships developed over the course of a career and even here at training camp are equally real.

“Obviously, Thomas (Gafford), Dustin (Colquitt) and I, we’ve been really blessed,” Succop said. “This is going on our sixth year together. And that’s cool because we’ve kind of built that chemistry over the years. We’re obviously really close off the field and that helps us on the field as well. And then, with Cairo (Santos) coming in, he’s been great. Obviously Cairo is a great guy and he’s a lot of fun. So it has been good.”

Standing at just 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds, compared to Succop at 6-foot-2, 218 pounds, Santos doesn’t look like a typical NFL kicker. But that doesn’t keep him from playing at a high level.

“I think because I’m not a big guy, and strong like the other NFL kickers that I rely on technique and consistency,” Santos said. “I have short steps that give me that consistency and follow-through, so I just rely on my consistency.”

Coming into the competition as the new guy, Santos understands that he’s not just kicking for the Chiefs during the preseason—that 31 other NFL teams will be watching as well.

“The biggest thing for me is to impress this coaching staff,” Santos said. “If I can’t get a job here, I trust that they’ll put in a word to another team for me. I know that coach (Dave) Toub is very well respected in the NFL, so I’m thankful to be kicking in front of this staff and I know whatever happens, they’ll be willing to help me out.”

Meanwhile, the Chiefs bring back Knile Davis as the kick returner in 2014. After averaging 32.1 yards per return last season, including a 108-yard return for a touchdown at home against the Denver Broncos, Davis comes into the season with experience—something Toub believes will help him pick up where he left off a season ago.

“He continues to need to work on the things that he was weak at last year,” Toub said. “He got valuable experience, game experience, last year. He got better and more confident as the year went on. He finished the year at a high level and we expect him to take it from that level. Going forward he’s going to get even better. He’s ready to roll; he can’t wait to get in the game.”

In regards to who will be returning punts, rookie De’Anthony Thomas will get an opportunity during the preseason to win the job outright.

Toub likes what he sees from Thomas after a couple of weeks of training camp.

“His burst, his ability to make the first person miss, he’s got that,” Toub said. “Same thing Devin Hester had. The thing we need to work on with him right now is his catching and his ball reads.”

In case anyone was wondering about the potential for Davis and Thomas to both return kicks, Toub left that door open as a possibility.

“There might be a situation we might have Knile [Davis] and him [Thomas] in the game at the same time and have a special return designed specifically for De’Anthony,” Toub said. “He can do a lot of different things that Knile can’t. Knile’s got more power and speed, straight ahead. Kind of fits our scheme, but you can do a lot of other things with De’Anthony.”

Another young player who has been standing out during camp for Toub is rookie wide receiver Albert Wilson.

“He’s really shown us a lot of good things,” Toub said. “It’s a good thing to have a lot of guys to create competition. You get banged up, especially in the preseason, so you’re going to have to have guys to go to. You never know when a star is going to come out. We think we have enough guys in our crew here that one of them will come out.”

Meanwhile, one player who knows their position is safe is punter Dustin Colquitt.

With the hiring of former Missouri Tiger Brock Olivo on the coaching staff as a special teams assistant, Colquitt believes Olivo’s experience will help.

“He’s a special guy because he has been in those shoes,” Colquitt said. “He knows what it means to make the team as a special teams guy and so when you have a guy like that, speaking from experience and has been in those trenches, in those games, where offense and defense are throwing big punches but special teams are jab specialists.

“We are trying to get the ball inside the one-yard line, we are trying to change field position [and] when offense can’t advance the ball, we are putting three on the board.”

As Colquitt describes what he does as a “jab specialist," Toub explains what he’s looking for in a player on special teams coverage and return units.

“He needs to have football instincts,” Toub said. “He needs to play with great effort, great speed, strength, toughness—all those attributes are important.”

Once the pads came on at practice, Toub knew exactly what drill he wanted to see from the guys fighting for spots on these special teams units.

“We do a drill called the Star Drill,” Toub said. “It’s kind of a 1-on-1 Oklahoma drill. And it tells a lot about coverage and the ability to block a guy in space.

“You can’t get that without having pads on. You have to have pads to be able to see what kind of toughness guys have, being able to shift weight from one side to the other and how they are going to take on blocks. All of those things are important for us on special teams.”

Toub praised Wilson’s ability as a returner, there’s no question a lot of eyes will be on him during these preseason games.

As Wilson and company look towards the preseason to show coaches, teammates and fans what they can do in a game situation, there’s no denying that after a successful 2013 special teams campaign, the expectations are high for this group this season.

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