Since he arrived as a second-round draft pick in 2010, the Chiefs have searched for ways to use the 5-foot-8, 170-pound Dexter McCluster to their advantage. He was a slot receiver and a kick returner as a rookie and a running back last season.
McCluster delivered some highlights, like his memorable 94-yard punt return for a touchdown on a rainy Monday night against San Diego in his first NFL game. But all in all, the results were mixed.
Now, some of the Chiefs’ moves in free agency and the draft threaten to leave McCluster with nothing to do. At running back, they signed veteran Peyton Hillis and drafted in the sixth round Cyrus Gray. Together with the return from last year’s knee injury by Jamaal Charles, that makes a crowd.
At slot receiver, the Chiefs picked Devon Wylie in the fourth round. Wylie will also get a look as a kick returner, a job he could wind up sharing with Javier Arenas.
Whether or not these moves were aimed at McCluster, together they would seem to suggest his roster spot is in serious jeopardy. That’s a notion that McCluster early this week didn’t agree with.
“Not at all,’’ he said. “Great, key players were added to our roster. (Hillis) has experience and knowledge of the game. It’s my responsibility to go out there and get better, get myself better and help the team. Whatever way that fits in is how it’s going to be, but I never feel threatened. I just want to go out there and be the best player I can be to make sure I do play a role in this offense.”
The Chiefs get their first look at Gray, Wylie and all of their draft picks beginning today with the start of a three-day rookie camp.
Full squad practice begins May 21. McCluster may be without a defined role when it begins.
“I would say pretty much the same thing, being able to line up at the running back, motion out of the backfield, go into the slot receiver,’’ he said when asked what position he would play next season. “It’s good to know both. I’ll tell you one thing: I’m ready for either or.”
The coach when McCluster was drafted, Todd Haley, was fired last year, perhaps putting making his situation even more extreme. He saw plenty of work in the final three games of the season after Romeo Crennel replaced Haley, but that was by necessity. Charles was out with his injury, Jackie Battle missed the final game with his own injury and Thomas Jones was apparently at the end of his long career, limiting his ability.
The Chiefs this year are stocked with younger and fresher legs at running back. They drafted Wylie because they think he will fill a need, so he will get a long look when the Chiefs go to formations that require extra receivers.
Wylie and Arenas are capable kick returners. McCluster’s work in that area hasn’t been spectacular since his touchdown two years ago against the Chargers.
“Coach Haley was a great guy,’’ McCluster said. “He really believed in me and I’m pretty sure he still does even though he is with another team. With our new offensive coordinator and our new coaches, I see that same look in his eye that Coach Haley had, that this guy can play so let’s see what he can learn and let’s see if we can mold him into the type of guy that we need for the offense.
“With Haley being gone, I still feel the same support and I’m going to give it everything I have no matter what, no matter who the coach is, no matter who the players are. You always have to go out there and it’s your job to do so.”