NEW ORLEANS — The Chiefs promised their special teams would be improved under new assistant coach Dave Toub. After all, it couldn’t be much worse than it has been the past two years.
And Dexter McCluster and rookie Knile Davis delivered big-time returns in Friday night’s preseason opener against New Orleans.
McCluster had a 55-yard return in the first quarter. And Davis, a third-round draft pick, busted a 79-yarder late in the third quarter.
McCluster might have erred in fielding the punt by the Saints’ Thomas Morstead at his own 3 instead of letting it go into the end zone for a touchback.
But McCluster cut to his right and followed his blocking down the sidelines for 55 yards, which last season would have been the Chiefs’ longest return — by 28 yards. And it would have been the longest punt return of McCluster’s career since his rookie season in 2010, when he brought back a return 94 yards for a touchdown in the Chiefs’ season-opening win over San Diego.
The Chiefs haven’t returned a punt for a touchdown since.
Davis, who did not return kickoffs in his college career at Arkansas, burst through the Saints’ coverage team, which had a tough time bringing him down. His 79-yard return nearly doubled the Chiefs’ longest return of 41 yards a year ago.
The Chiefs were unable to convert either long return into a touchdown. But Ryan Succop nailed a 42-yard field goal following McCluster’s return and a 32-yarder after Davis’ runback.
The field goals ran Succop’s streak to eight in a row in the Superdome, where he was six-for-six in last year’s overtime win in week three.
Second-year man Devon Wiley replaced McCluster on the next punt return. Wiley fielded a bomb by Morestead at the Chiefs 9 and headed straight upfield, threading his way through the Saints’ oncoming coverage unit for a 22-yard gain to the New Orleans 31.
Wiley tempted fate in the third quarter when he fielded a kickoff seven yards deep in the end zone, but he brought it out 31 yards to the Chiefs 24.
The punting phase of the Chiefs’ special teams was strong, too, as Dustin Colquitt picked up where he left off from last year’s Pro Bowl season.
He buried a punt 56 yards that was downed by Jalil Brown at the Saints 4. Last year, Colquitt ranked second in the NFL with a franchise-record 45 punts downed inside the 20, the second-most in NFL history to Arizona’s Dave Zastudil, who had 46 last year.
Colquitt followed that up with a 36-yard punt that was fair caught at the Saints 13, and even on a kick that Colquitt shanked for 27 yards, Saints return man Preston Parker called for a fair catch at his 18.