When news spread of Dustin Colquitt’s latest honor — he was named AFC special teams player of the week on Wednesday for the first time in his 11-year career — Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos was among many teammates who were not surprised in the least bit.
“We were talking about it this morning, among the players,” Santos said. “I mean, that’s just another day in the office for him. That’s just what he does.”
It probably should not come as a surprise, then, that special teams coach Dave Toub was similarly nonchalant.
“I’m not surprised at all,” Toub said. “He’s been very consistent this season. He’s been having a great year.”
This is the status the Chiefs’ 33-year-old punter has reached among his teammates, and it is well deserved. Colquitt’s touch on balls inside the 20, perhaps more than any other, reflects his skill, as he has finished in the top five of that category in five of the last six seasons.
Colquitt is on pace to do the same this season, too, as he is tied with St. Louis’ Johnny Hekker with a league-leading 25 punts downed inside the 20-yard line, although Colquitt has done so on 13 fewer attempts.
And in the Chiefs’ 33-3 win over the San Diego Chargers, he dropped four of his five punts inside the 20, a few days after Toub lavished a significant compliment on Colquitt’s ability to do just that.
“I think he’s the best there’s ever been (at that), really,” said Toub, who has been coaching NFL special teams for 15 years. “When you look at it, over the years, 40 percent of his kicks are inside the 20. It’s unbelievable.
“I don’t know if there’s anybody that’s been even close to him – maybe the guy that was at the Giants for years, (Jeff) Feagles. But I don’t think there’s anybody else closer than him.”
Colquitt, it turns out, has perfected this skill with hard work and a not-so-secret weapon that San Diego Chargers punter Mike Scifres — yes, his AFC West rival — helped Colquitt hone.
“Yeah, it’s the evolution of the rugby kick down there,” Toub said. “It used to be coffin corner, (but) coffin corners no more. I mean, that was Feagles, what he used to be good at that, but now the rugby kick with the spin, when it hits, it comes back, so everybody goes with that. It’s a much more high-percentage kick — everybody has that now. You can’t be an NFL punter without having the rugby kick.”
Colquitt humbly accepts Toub’s praise about his touch inside the 20 — “I appreciate it, and it’s something we’ve worked on,” he says — but he is quick to note that he couldn’t have mastered it without the efforts of those who came before him.
“The rugby punt was introduced by (San Diego’s) Darren Bennett, and in my opinion, perfected by Mike Scifres, who we just played,” Colquitt said. “And then (Oakland’s) Shane Lechler took it over and really started being a powerhouse. I learned from them.”
When Colquitt entered the league in 2005, he did not use the rugby-style punt. But he remembers marveling at Scifres’ ability to drop punts inside the 20 using the technique — which often causes balls to bounce away from the end zone or spin dead, allowing for the coverage units to down the ball — and he started working diligently to add it to his arsenal.
But punting, like anything else, is a skill, and practice makes perfect. Colquitt says he worked on rugby punting for nearly 2 1/2 years before he introduced it in a game in 2009, all the while taking tips from Scifres on his technique before their bi-annual games against San Diego.
“During gamedays, pregame warmups, he’d actually go, ‘Yeah it’s not ready yet’ or he’d tell me what I was doing wrong, which is unbelievable for him to stand out and do that,” said Colquitt. “I’m right-handed anyway, so dropping a ball with my (left) hand, learning how to do that and learning a different drop for the rugby punt was a difficult thing, so for him to help me out like that, I really appreciate that.”
And if you’re surprised an opponent would help an opponent in this manner, don’t be. There are only 32 punters in the NFL, so they tend to stick together.
“It’s just like a golfer and stuff like that,” Colquitt said. “If you see somebody doing something, guys will come over and say, ‘Hey, you’re doing this or you’re looking up too soon or whatever it is. It’s a small league.”
And they’re all using the rugby kick.
“I have to say 95 percent of the guys do rugby punts now, just because the percentage is so high to keep the ball in play, and touchbacks really kind of kill you,” Colquitt said. “That’s 20 yards of hidden field position that can really hurt your team.”
While a typical punt is more like a handshake — you’re holding the football like you’re shaking a hand, Colquitt said — on the rugby punt, Colquitt holds the bottom third of the football and just lets it go.
“Think of a trap door release,” Colquitt said. “You’re dropping the nose straight down so you hit the bottom third, just like a kickoff.”
It takes a while to get a feel for it — hence the reason it took him two-plus years of practice before he felt comfortable unveiling it — and it’s something that requires constant work, which Toub always ensures they get.
“That’s something that, on days where I don’t want to do it in training camp or offseason, he’s like ‘No, no, no, we’re getting at least five of these in,’ ” Colquitt said. “He says we need gunner work, but what he’s telling me is: ‘Don’t take your foot off the pedal. Let’s keep going.’ ”
But while Toub is willing — and able — to motivate players the hard way, he says he never has to do that with Colquitt, which coaches say is another thing that makes him special.
“He looks at it as an art craft, he takes pride in it,” Toub said. “He’s so disappointed when he hits a touchback. I mean, it really crushes him.”
“He gets very upset when it’s a touchback, as any punter would, just because he likes to be aggressive,” Santos said. “It’s a high-risk, high-reward. Lately, he’s been getting rewarded a lot.”
And on the rare occasions he shanks a punt, watch out. Colquitt did that on a 19-yard punt in the fourth quarter against the Vikings in mid-October, and was visibly annoyed long after the 16-10 loss.
“We were experiencing some crazy winds that game, and they were (coming) out of nowhere,” Santos said. “We’d be down the middle and then we’d just feel a gust. I remember him telling me, he was like, ‘Dude, what’s wrong with this place?’ It wasn’t windy, you’d just feel like a gust and he’s like, falling out of his stance. It was a tough place to deal with, but he bounced back.”
In a big way. In the four games since, he’s dropped 11 out of 17 punts inside the 20, while the other six have been fair caught. Only four, meanwhile, have been returned for a total of 15 yards.
Just more of the usual from one of the league’s best punters, and a man who never ceases to impress his teammates.
“I think I’m lucky to be able to watch him day in and day out in practice and in games,” Santos said. “He’s taken the inside-the-20 stat to another level. To him, it’s inside the 10, inside the 5. That’s how he is.”