Kansas City Chiefs

Chiefs still missing McCluster's magic

KANSAS CITY, Mo. —The explanation is simple, really. Dexter McCluster isn't fully healthy, and that's why his big plays — the ones the Chiefs envisioned when they drafted him in the second round and those legitimized when he broke a 94-yard punt return in his first regular-season game — have dried up.

Yes, that explains it. McCluster, the shifty little playmaker, suffered a high-ankle sprain earlier this season and missed five consecutive contests. He returned four weeks ago, but coach Todd Haley said this week that McCluster isn't yet 100 percent — and that's why this rookie hasn't produced a play of at least 20 yards since Oct. 17.

"It's not good," Haley said, "for those little sports cars to need tune-ups."

The problem is that McCluster said this week that he's not injured. Nope, not at all. The ankle, he said, is fine — and so is the rest of him.

"I'm definitely healthy. I'm good to go," he said. "The big plays, they're not coming, but that's still not going to affect me. I'm going to go out, I'm going to block the guy that I have to block, and try to make a play when I can make a play. I'm very patient."

Not everyone is so patient. The only problem with starting your career with a high-impact, memorable play — there's an oversized photograph in a hallway of the Chiefs' practice facility of McCluster jumping into offensive lineman Branden Albert's arms after his franchise-record punt return for a touchdown — is that you're expected to repeat it. When McCluster didn't immediately stack another big play on top of his return, observers sighed. When he went several games without another dazzling gain, outsiders grew antsy. When he was injured and then went a dozen weeks without breaking 50 yards receiving or 30 yards rushing, fans began to groan.

Through 10 games, McCluster has 194 yards receiving and 71 yards rushing. He hasn't had a kick return of at least 30 yards since October. Those aren't the kinds of numbers the Chiefs had in mind when they drafted him, and those are hardly the statistics fans foresaw when McCluster emerged as one of the team's most spectacular players during training camp and then followed that with his regular-season debut, after which he was named the AFC's special-teams player of the week.

"You can only do what they are capable of doing," Haley said, again alluding to McCluster's injury. "Guys that rely on speed and quickness, they need to be fast and quick."

The Chiefs prefer players who shake off injuries and, even if pain remains, to ignore it when asked. Perhaps that's why the 170-pound rookie returned when he did, and Haley admitted this week that he might have come back earlier than he should've.

"It's actually been impressive that he's been out there as much as he has," said the Chiefs coach, who wouldn't discuss specifics of McCluster's health. "The good thing is, he's getting a lot closer to 100 percent."

Which could mean good things for the Chiefs, if his only obstacle truly is health and not a more worrisome concern: that McCluster isn't the playmaker Kansas City hoped he'd be. For his part, McCluster said he believes he's in a slump, and that he'll soon break out of it.

The Chiefs could sure use him, especially when they begin the playoffs next week. In the meantime, McCluster said, he will continue doing the grunt work that wasn't part of his original profile, but is another one of those things the Chiefs require of players - the same as shaking off injuries.

"I know it's going to come to me," he said. "It can be frustrating, but you have to see the big picture. You've got to be a team player. If you're not making the plays, you've got to block for somebody else to make a play or go out and contribute any way you can. I'm very patient. When it comes, it's going to come big.

"Until then, I'm going to keep working."

Weis leaving? —Charlie Weis, who as offensive coordinator helped the Chiefs become one of the NFL's best offensive teams, may be on his way out.

Media reports indicate Weis is the leading candidate to become offensive coordinator at the University of Florida and could get the job as soon as next week.

Chiefs coach Todd Haley said he was unaware that Weis was talking to the Gators about joining their staff.

"It would be news to me,'' Haley said.

In their only season with Weis, the Chiefs lead the NFL in rushing by more than 15 yards per game over the second-ranked Raiders. They are ninth in total offense and 11th in scoring.

"I think one thing that really stands out to me about coach Weis is his game day presence,'' KC quarterback Matt Cassel said. "He's so calm and when I come off to the sideline, whether it's good or bad, I get on that phone and he's steady, he's consistent and we are always trying to get better and move forward. He is a guy, like Todd and the other coaches, who has always pushed me to be the best that I can be and he holds me accountable for my actions."