KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Many Chiefs players says they pay little attention to statistics during the season, but one number holds great meaning to many: how many points are on the report card handed out by special teams coordinator Dave Toub and who ranks atop the latest leaderboard.
“We look at that every Tuesday when we give out the grade sheets and look at the board, we talk about it everyday,” Toub said. “It's important to those guys, they compete. It's not like we're going give them anything at the end. It's a peer pressure thing. It's a good atmosphere, good competitive atmosphere that we've got going.”
Special teams players earn points for a number of in-game tasks. That can include shedding blocks, racing first to the goal line on a kickoff or clearing a lane for a return among others. Early in the season wide receiver Marcus Kemp took a lead he hasn't relinquished, but Toub said the race remains tight at midseason.
“It's real close,” Toub said. “Right now I think the leader is like 59 points, and we've got like five guys within that area. It's a good competition.”
Kemp has emerged as a four-phase player for Toub on special teams. He ranks third on the club with 168 special teams snaps, behind only Demetrius Harris (198) and Anthony Sherman (196).
“It's good to consistent in this league, that's how you stick around,” Kemp said. “I felt good being the points leader since Week 1 or 2. Anything can happen, so I'm not too comfortable up there at the top, but it feels good to be at the best position.”
Much of Kemp's special teams value comes from his ability to play multiple roles. He can fill roles on any phase and relishes the opportunity to learn new positions when needed. Nothing illustrated that commitment more than earlier this season when the Chiefs worked Kemp out at safety in case they needed help in a pinch due to injuries.
“Whatever (Toub) needs me to do, I'm confident enough to learn a new position and learn whatever he needs me to do,” Kemp said. “That keeps me on my toes and know what everyone's doing keeps me able to perform.”
Most of the times special teams players thrive in the shadows, rarely earning recognition without the ball in their hand and receiving criticism only when something goes wrong. That happened to Kemp in Week 4 at Denver.
Twice the Chiefs had an opportunity to pin the Broncos deep on a punt inside the 10-yard line, and twice the ball fell harmlessly to the turn and bounded into the end zone for a touchback.
“I felt bad after that game, after the Broncos game, I didn't feel good after that one,” Kemp said. “I just realized I wasn't practicing that specific play enough.”
Kemp isn't a punt returner, so he normally participates in stretching drills with the rest of the offense rather than receive practice kicks with the return group. After the Denver game, he started warming up with returners for extra work
“Now every week I take it upon myself to practice what I need to practice,” Kemp said. “And it's a good warmup in general.”
Kemp also stepped up his work on downing punts both during practices and before games. Since Week 4, Kemp has been the first player on the field each Sunday, working with assistant equipment manager Jay White.
White served as the punter for Missouri Western during his college career. He later returned to his alma mater as the assistant director of athletic facilities. He also helped coach the team's punters and kickers, earning the nickname of “kicker whisperer” from former head coach Jerry Partridge. White joins Kemp on the field every Sunday morning, kicking punts for Kemp to practice downing at the goal line.
“He helps me a lot,” Kemp said. “He's really got me ready to do what I need to do. I feel a lot more comfortable, I feel like I can catch a punt back there.”
That extra work and dedication put into his craft in recent weeks serves as an example of why Toub kept his faith in Kemp. The second-year receiver knows a football can take a funny bounce, but he wants to refine the things that are within his control.
“Sometimes it doesn't bounce my way, sometimes I can't get back there fast enough,” Kemp said. “But I know if the situation comes again, I feel that I'm ready.”