Chiefs holding unique virtual competition for punting job

Wed May 20 2:46pm ET
By DAVE SKRETTA
AP Sports Writer

In this Feb. 2, 2020, file photo, Kansas City Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt, right, hands the trophy to head coach Andy Reid after the chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL Super Bowl 54 football game in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)


LEAWOOD, Kan. (AP) It's a good thing an NFL kicking operation requires no more than three players.

There's the long snapper, tasked with delivering the ball. The kicker, who is expected to send it through the uprights. And the punter, who for many teams doubles as the holder on field goal and extra-point attempts.

The reason this is important, at least for the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, is that for the first time in 15 years they are trying to decide on a new punter. Dustin Colquitt held down the job with Pro Bowl efficiency for as long as some of the current Chiefs have been playing football. But his increasing age and the franchise's dwindling coffers forced the club to make the difficult business decision to let him go this offseason.

With teams barred from holding in-person workouts because of COVID-19, the Chiefs have been unable to bring in an endless number of potential replacements. Instead, they signed Tyler Newsome and undrafted rookie Tommy Townsend, and those two have been working out privately with kicker Harrison Butker and long snapper James Winchester.

Well below the gathering limits of 10 people that have been in place in Kansas and Missouri.

''We're kind of fortunate,'' Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub said, ''because those guys can get together and kick and work on the operation. They can do that on our own. We can work on our skill set, whereas to play football you need 22 guys out there. You can't sit down face to face, but they video everything they do and send it to me and we talk.''

Nobody knows when teams will be allowed back at their facilities for good. Just this week, players rehabbing from injuries and certain staff were finally allowed back, but no coaches or healthy players. So that means what would typically be low-stress, good-natured workouts on a high school practice field for Newsome and Townsend have taken on extra importance.

What they show off on video could determine who has the leg up - pun intended - when training camp finally begins.

''There is nobody out in front right now. I like them both,'' Toub said. ''They've both got really strong legs, really powerful legs. They consistently hit over 5.0 (seconds) hang times, which is impressive. Tommy is a little more clean in his technique as far as consistency, whereas Tyler is a little more erratic. But the results are the same. They both bomb the ball.''

That's a good thing for the Chiefs as they attempt to replace a franchise icon.

Colquitt appeared in a record 238 games for Kansas City, easily besting the previous mark by Nick Lowery. He also set franchise records for punts, punt yardage and career-long kick with an 81-yard boot. When he was released, he was among the top 10 active players in appearances and had the eighth-most punt yardage in NFL history.

Even more impressive, he was the only man among the top 20 in total punts to have played with just one team.

''They've been with Dustin for a really long time. He's a guy that has done everything the right way,'' Townsend said. ''The biggest thing for me is just trying to make a name for myself and become my own person.''

Townsend's familiarity with Colquitt goes back to college; he began his career at Tennessee, where Colquitt holds a number of records, before transferring to Florida. As a Gator, he followed in the footsteps of his brother, Johnny, who was drafted by the Raiders a couple of years ago and has spent time in camp with the Giants.

Toub said the younger Townsend was the Chiefs' highest-rated punter in this year's draft class, even though two others - Texas A&M's Braden Mann and Syracuse's Sterling Hofrichter - where chosen in the later rounds.

Newsome punted at Notre Dame before spending last offseason with the Chargers.

''We just finished the virtual rookie minicamp and we went over schemes and stuff like that, so I got a little taste for what we're doing in Kansas City,'' Townsend said, ''and I've gotten a chance to watch all the film from the past few seasons. That's the stuff I've been working for, get the feeling for the schemes we are using here in Kansas City.''

That way, he'll be ready when the competition for the starting job finally returns to the Chiefs' own practice facility.

''Harrison and James have taken the leadership role. They know how important that part of it is,'' Toub said. ''They've been up here on their own, doing their own thing, and videoing it. And we feel good about both guys we have, Tommy and Tyler.''

Player Notes
Denzel Ward Jun 5 12:10am ET

Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward faced a high target rate of 22.4 percent in 2019, and on top of that he posted a coverage success rate of 61 percent and had a ballhawk rate of 14.3 percent, all while operating in a tight-window rate of 28.6 percent. His 77 targets accounted for nearly a quarter of his coverage snaps, so not only are opposing quarterbacks throwing his way, but Ward is shutting most of those targets down. If the 23-year-old former fourth overall pick can stay healthy -- he's played in just 25 games in his first two seasons -- he could break out in 2020 for a Browns Defense that could become streamable at some point during the year.

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Anthony Harris Jun 5 12:00am ET

Minnesota Vikings free safety Harrison Smith was targeted just 40 times in pass coverage in 2019, but he comes in at No. 6 on NFL.com's Nick Shook's top-10 coverage men in the league. He forced tight windows 20 percent of the time and allowed a passer rating of just 50.3 when targeted. Fellow safety Anthony Harris was a standout in his own right in Minnesota, but Smith is the more fear safety for the Vikings. The 31-year-old has made the Pro Bowl each of the last five seasons and was an All-Pro in 2017. Smith had 85 tackles (65 solo), one sack, three interceptions, 11 passes defensed and two fumble recoveries last year. Because he's also a threat against the run, Smith is a top-10 fantasy defensive back in IDP leagues.

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Luke Kuechly Jun 4 11:10pm ET

The Carolina Panthers hired former seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Luke Kuechly as a pro scout on Thursday. His new role will require plenty of film watching and advance scouting. Kuechly, who was also a five-time first-team All-Pro, retired after the 2019 season mainly because of multiple head injuries suffered throughout his career. He posted 100-plus combined tackles in every single one of his eight seasons in the NFL and also had 12.5 sacks, 18 interceptions and 66 passes defensed. In his prime, Kuechly was one of the best sideline-to-sideline linebackers. He turned 29 years old this past April. It's a shame we didn't get to see more of Captain America on the football field, but he should be a tremendous asset to Carolina's scouting team.

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William Jackson Jun 4 11:00pm ET

Cincinnati Bengals cornerback William Jackson III (shoulder) played with a torn labrum in his shoulder the entire season in 2019. "I don't know how I did it, but I did it. It was painful every game. I'm fully healthy and ready to go," Jackson said. The 27-year-old gutted it out through 14 games to record 37 tackles (26 solo), one interception and three passes defensed. It sounds like Jackson has recovered well and should be ready for the start of the regular season this fall. He could have a bounce-back year in 2020 if he's fully healthy, but Jackson hasn't ever been fantasy relevant in IDP leagues with just two career interceptions in 45 games for Cincy.

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Eddie Jackson Jun 4 10:30pm ET

Chicago Bears free safety Eddie Jackson wasn't targeted all that much in 2019 (43 times) and his ballhawk rate (9.3 percent) won't turn many heads, but he allowed a passer rating of just 49.9 and a catch rate allowed below expectation of minus-20.9 percent. He had only two interceptions last season, but he's demonstrated a nose for the football in the past, as evidenced by his career-high six picks in 2018. A fourth-round selection by Chicago in 2017, Jackson has been a Pro Bowler each of the last two years and was a first-team All-Pro selection in 2018. He might be useful as a bye-week filler in deeper IDP leagues, but he's not an every-week starter. The Bears Defense, on the other hand, is a top-five fantasy unit that should rebound after a down season in 2019.

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Stephon Gilmore Jun 4 10:20pm ET

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Baker Mayfield Jun 4 7:30pm ET

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Justin Simmons Jun 4 7:30pm ET

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Stephon Gilmore Jun 4 7:00pm ET

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Stephon Gilmore Jun 4 6:50pm ET

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Christian McCaffrey Jun 4 3:20pm ET

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Todd Gurley Jun 4 3:00pm ET

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Phillip Lindsay Jun 4 2:40pm ET

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Devonta Freeman Jun 4 2:10pm ET

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Aaron Jones Jun 4 1:30pm ET

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