Dexter McCluster made history for the Kansas City Chiefs last week when he set the franchise record for punt return yards in a game with 177, including a 74-yard touchdown.
After practicing without incident on Wednesday, the wide receiver sat out Thursday with an ankle injury that immediately puts his status for Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders in doubt. It also turned the focus onto who would take over for McCluster if he were inactive.
The Chiefs list safety Quintin Demps as the backup on the official depth chart. While he’s been impressive returning kicks, he hasn’t returned a punt in his career, making him a risky option.
Considering his speed, wide receiver Donnie Avery would make sense, but he’s another guy that hasn’t returned a punt during his time in the NFL. If you go all the way back to his college career at Houston, he did return three punts for 28 yards in 2004.
Another wide receiver that hasn’t done it at the pro level, but put some time in during college is Junior Hemingway. While he was at Michigan, he was the occasional return man for the Wolverines with a career long of 34 yards back in 2009.
If Andy Reid and special teams coach Dave Toub want to bring someone up from the practice squad, they would have a couple of intriguing options.
Frankie Hammond Jr. got the most work in the preseason for the Chiefs and even made a late push for a roster spot with an impressive effort against the Green Bay Packers. In that final preseason game the undrafted free agent out of Florida had returns of 36 and 33 yards, plus an 18 yarder that was wiped out by a penalty.
Before you assume it will be Hammond getting the nod, it should be noted he was ineffective during the first three preseason games (6 returns, 34 yards) and muffed a punt.
Also sitting on the practice squad is wide receiver Rashad Ross and his 4.36 speed. The undrafted free agent out of Arizona State was quite the return specialist during during his time in Community College before making it to ASU. He was honored as First Team All-America during both of his seasons at Butte College, averaging 12.9 yards on punts including a touchdown.
If McCluster can bounce back from this ankle injury by Sunday, the replacements won’t be an issue. But if he needs to take the decision all the way up to pregame, the Chiefs will be forced to prepare either by putting someone like Demps in the spot or promoting Hammond or Ross from the practice squad.
The Chiefs brought back wide receiver Chad Hall Friday, putting him in a position to serve as the primary punt returner in the event that McCluster is unable to play Sunday.