Why the Kansas City Chiefs have made a change at punt returner (no more Mecole Hardman)

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Jed Jacobsohn/AP
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  • Kansas City Chiefs
    Kansas City Chiefs
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  • Mecole Hardman
    Mecole Hardman
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  • Dave Toub
    American football player and coach
  • Mike Hughes
    Mike Hughes
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The Chiefs are making a notable change on special teams after their bye week.

Special teams coordinator Dave Toub said Thursday that cornerback Mike Hughes will remain the primary punt returner in place of wide receiver Mecole Hardman.

“Right now, that’s what we’re going to go with,” Toub said. “We always know we’ve got Mecole, we’ve got Tyreek (Hill). There’s a lot worse situations in the NFL than we have right now.”

Hardman had the role as the team’s primary punt returner from Weeks 1-10, totaling eight returns for 86 yards. Hughes took over in Week 11 against the Dallas Cowboys.

Toub said the move to Hughes, who has made three returns for 55 yards this season, was designed to energize the Chiefs’ punt-return unit.

“We’re trying to get a spark,” Toub said. “We’re not giving up on Mecole, by any means. He is probably the most dynamic guy we have.

“But just a little bit, maybe just sit back and watch a little bit and watch from the sideline. Maybe that’ll help your confidence a little bit and watch somebody else do it.”

The Chiefs tinkered with the punt-returner position during training camp and the preseason by rotating players, including Hughes. They wanted to identify others capable of fielding and returning punts.

Hughes did his part to impress, totaling three punt returns for 36 yards in the Chiefs’ three exhibition games.

“Mike does a great job,” Toub said. “He’s a great catcher, makes good decisions. We just want to get that part of our game going.”

As for Hardman, the Chiefs expect him to continue growing in other ways.

“Obviously, with Coach Toub making that decision, he felt that was the best decision moving forward for the team,” offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said Thursday. “Now, the thing that we need to make sure is that Mecole is maximizing all the different opportunities that he’s being given, obviously, with the wide receiver group.

“So when it’s all said and done with, we just want our guys — the guys who are on the field — to give us the best chance to have the success. And so Mecole is going to be given that opportunity; he just needs to continue maximizing it.”

Hardman enters Week 13 ranked third on the team with 42 catches for 424 yards and a touchdowns. Only Hill (932 yards) and tight end Travis Kelce (821 yards) have accumulated more receiving yards.