ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — Javier Arenas fielded the kickoff about 5 yards deep in the end zone, cut to his left, and as the crowd came to its feet, sprinted untouched downfield.
Had this been a regular-season game, and not Family Fun Day at Spratt Stadium, it would have been the Chiefs’ first kickoff return for a touchdown in more than two years, or since Nov. 22, 2009, when Jamaal Charles went 97 yards with the opening kickoff in a 27-24 win over Pittsburgh.
That’s 141 kickoffs returned by 19 return men covering 38 games without a touchdown.
It’s not much better for punt returns.
The Chiefs have not returned a punt for a touchdown since Dexter McCluster ignited a 21-14 season-opening win with a club-record 94-yarder against San Diego on Sept. 13, 2010, a stretch of 97 punt returns by 11 players over 31 games.
“We know it’s been a while since one has happened,” McCluster said. “We feel we have a strong corps, special-teamswise, and a new coach to show us the way and how to do things.”
How important will it be for the Chiefs to take a kick return the distance?
In 2011, teams that returned a kickoff for a touchdown were 6-3 in those games, Teams that returned a punt for a touchdown went 15-5.
The Chiefs’ new special-teams coach, Tom McMahon, is auditioning a handful of candidates as return men, including McCluster, Arenas, rookies Devon Wylie, Cyrus Gray and second-year man Mikail Baker. Veteran Steve Breaston could be called upon late in games as a sure-handed punt returner.
Arenas finished third in the NFL in punt returns with a 12.8-yard average last year but didn’t bust a big one. His longest return went 37 yards.
“It’s frustrating to know that the average is good, but that is not something we aim for,” said Arenas, taken as a second-round draft pick in 2010 largely because of his return ability. “We aim for exceeding all expectations on special teams. The goal is to score as many times as we can. We have to do everything we can to do everything right, and that starts here in training camp.”
The Chiefs were one of 11 teams in the NFL last year not to return either a punt or kickoff for a touchdown in 2011. Leaguewide, there were 20 punts returned for touchdowns last season but just nine kickoff returns for scores, which can be attributed to moving the kickoff from the 30 to the 35.
However, Green Bay’s Randall Cobb recorded a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on opening night of 2011, tying the NFL record for the longest kickoff return in history. And San Francisco’s Ted Ginn Jr. became the 12th player in NFL history to return a kickoff (102 yards) and a punt (55 yards) for touchdowns in the same
Also, Arizona Patrick Peterson, who will be on the Missouri Western practice field Tuesday when the Cardinals work out with the Chiefs, became the first player in NFL history with four punt-return touchdowns of at least 80 yards in a single season as he tied the league record for most punt return scores in a season.
When it comes to kickoff returns, McMahon’s goal is to at least reach the 25-yard line. The Chiefs ranked 30th in the NFL with an average starting position of 20.6 last year. The New York Jets, who had just one kickoff return for a touchdown, ranked first at 26.1.
“Drive starts are all that matters,” McMahon said. “It doesn’t matter if you get 12 yards, as long as you are over the 25. On punt returns we want to average a first down. We want 10 yards every single play.”
McMahon is keeping an open mind on who will emerge as the primary return men.
“I like the best player. I like the guy that is going to produce for us,” he said. “They are all going to get a chance to be that guy. That is what’s great about the preseason.”