This time a year ago, Tyreek Hill was coming off a spectacular game in Denver in which he became the first rookie since Gale Sayers to score a touchdown by rushing, receiving and return. A big December would help him become AFC special teams player of the month and a member of the All-Pro team as a punt returner.
Hill might not collect such honors this season, but that’s because he’s getting the ultimate respect. Teams aren’t kicking to him.
“Teams are kicking rugby kicks to us,” Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub said. “They’re kicking high. They don’t care about how far they kick the ball anymore. We’re getting the 39-yard kick with a high hang time, which is just about impossible to get a return.
“But our guys are working. They’re trying to get him one. He’ll wait until the last second to try and steal one. By then the coverage is on us.”
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After leading the NFL with a 15.2-yard punt-return average last season, Hill is averaging 8.5 yards in 2017. Over the past four games, he has six punt returns for a total of nine yards.
Hill returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown against the Texans for his only special teams score this season. He had three return touchdowns last year, but he also returned kickoffs then. He’s not doing that this season.
“I’m always tempted to use (Hill as a kick returner), but we have to be smart,” Toub said. “He’s getting so many reps on offense, and I never want to lose him off punt return.”
With 54 receptions, Hill needs seven more to match the total from his rookie season.