Kansas City Chiefs

Chiefs' McCluster sees better times ahead

KANSAS CITY, Mo. —The Dexter McCluster the Chiefs thought they were getting last year when they drafted him in the second round surfaced all too rarely last season.

There was his signature moment, the punt he returned 94 yards to help the Chiefs beat the Chargers in the Monday night season opener. There was his 31-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown a few weeks later against San Francisco.

There was little else memorable from McCluster's rookie season, something he promised to change next season.

"I'll tell you one thing: It's going to be nice to see what I'm going to do this year after that first-year experience," McCluster said this week after a player-organized practice at a Kansas City area high school. "The main thing I learned is I have to know my stuff. I played running back and I played wide receiver and I played slot receiver, so I have to know a lot to be on top of my game. That was the major adjustment for me. They're not looking for excuses."

He had one of those handy. A high ankle sprain caused McCluster to miss five games in the middle of the season, and clearly he didn't have the same quickness and speed after returning for t he final five games plus the playoff loss to Baltimore.

His rushing, receiving and returning statistics went down dramatically in those final five games. He had the two touchdowns before the injury and none afterward.

"A lot of people said he fell off the last part of the season, but that's not what happened," quarterback Matt Cassel said. "He kept working through everything. He showed up for every meeting while he was hurt. He listened.

"He had a high ankle sprain. He was never able to truly recover even when he did come back. You should have seen the tape they had to put on him when he did come back. It was crazy. Those high-ankle sprains, those are the worst. You saw what happened. He couldn't even move his foot, so he was limited."

McCluster called the injury his "first and last" high ankle sprain. It's the type of injury that can and in this case apparently did limit his quickness and speed, but it's something McCluster didn't want to offer as a reason for the second-half drop-off.

"The injury really brought me down," he said. "But I kept working at it. I've been injured before, so I went back out there and I wasn't timid. I was running and cutting and doing it the same way I'd been doing it. I won't say I was actually back to what I was but I wasn't scared to try to play.

"One thing I learned last season: Success does not come overnight. You've got to work, you've got to grind. You're going to go through hard times and you're going to go through high times. So nobody is perfect. I gave it my best, and I'll continue to give it my best."

The players are barred from using the Chiefs' practice facility because of the NFL lockout, so Cassel is organizing some pitch-and-catch sessions with some of the receivers at a local high school.

McCluster, after spending time at his offseason home in Florida, joined the workouts this week. The players wear only shorts and T-shirts, and the drills involve no contact, but McCluster looked as agile as ever and may be ready to deliver on his promise.

"I've got nothing but high expectations for Dexter," Cassel said. "Last year was a tough season. You could see the production and then he had the injury."

The Chiefs' collection of offensive skill players already included Pro Bowlers in Dwayne Bowe, Jamaal Charles and Cassel. They also have Tony Moeaki, who debuted last year with a nice rookie season, and Thomas Jones, who has produced five 1,000-plus-yard rushing seasons.

They added wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin, drafted in the first round. That's a large group of players Cassel will need to feed with only one football to do it. So Baldwin's addition could take some opportunities from McCluster.

But Baldwin immediately becomes the deep threat at wide receiver, and his presence could help divert defensive attention from McCluster.

"We have some players that can put us in some great situations," McCluster said. "We have a lot of guys the defense will have to key on. That can only help me and all the players."