When Dexter McCluster finished practice last Wednesday, he noticed that something was wrong with his ankle. He knew he’d gotten a small cut there a few days earlier, in the Chiefs’ 45-10 win over Washington, and he also knew it was way more swollen than it should have been.
But when he went to the Chiefs’ medical staff and later found out the cut had been infected and needed to be cleaned out and treated with antibiotics, well, he hadn’t expected to hear that.
“I just thought, wow, something that small, a cut that I get every day in this sport (did that),” McCluster said. “I took it very seriously. I wanted to make sure it didn’t move and it didn’t spread, that it didn’t infect my body as a whole.”
McCluster had a little help understanding the seriousness of the situation. Once he found out the news, he decided to call his mom, Wendy, a certified nursing assistant who promptly started doing mom things.
“I’ve got to call her and let her know what’s going on in my life, you know, (because) she worries,” McCluster said.
Wendy promptly threw out the names of possible causes, including MRSA, a nasty antibiotic-resistant staph infection that has affected at least three members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season.
Surprisingly, McCluster had never heard of it.
“I’m like ‘Mom, I don’t know what that is,’ ” McCluster said with a laugh. “‘But I hope it’s not.’”
Fortunately for McCluster, it wasn’t. McCluster’s tests came up negative for the infection, and though he missed the Chiefs’ 56-31 rout over Oakland on Sunday, that set the stage for him to return this week. “That’s the plan,” Chiefs special-teams coach Dave Toub said. “We cut Chad (Hall) (Thursday), and that’s an indicator that we think Dexter is going to be OK for the game.”
Hall — who was re-signed late last week when it was obvious McCluster’s availability for the Oakland game was in doubt — had only one return in the win over the Raiders.
“Chad did a good job on that one,” Toub said. “He had a 9-yard return, he made a guy miss. He’s solid.”
But clearly, he’s no McCluster, who has two punt-return touchdowns this season, both of which were of the highlight-reel variety.
“He’s a threat, obviously, with the two touchdowns and what he does saving field position, catching all of those short kicks (and catching) the deep ones,” Toub said. “The threat that he’s going to catch it every time, that creates a lot of pressure on opposing teams as well.”
Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said McCluster, the team’s third receiver, was also missed on that side of the ball, where he remains third on the team on catches (46) and targets (72) and fourth in receiving yards (438).
“He’s a big part of our offense, and we’ve been using him in different spots, whether it be in the slot, coming out of the backfield or special teams,” Pederson said.
Junior Hemingway stepped into McCluster’s place Sunday, and though Hemingway did not catch a pass, Pederson said he did “a fabulous job.” A.J. Jenkins also benefited from McCluster’s absence, as he logged a 5-yard gain on a running play that ordinarily would have been called for McCluster.
“That would have been a McCluster play,” Pederson said. “Again, that just goes to A.J.’s credit. He stepped in and did a nice job for him and was able to get it. He’s another receiver that you like to get into the game a little bit more from time to time.”
McCluster seems excited to get back into the mix this week, though in retrospect, he’s not sure he could have done much to prevent the cut that led to the infection. He sustained the cut when he got hit at the tail end of his 74-yard punt return for a touchdown against Washington.
“I felt it when he nipped my leg going into the end zone,” McCluster said, “but adrenaline took over. It was just a small cut. I took a shower, bandaged it up and kept it moving. Something must have crept in there underneath all of that.”
But with the worst-case scenario now off the table — a relief to both him and his mom — a grateful McCluster did admit that the scare was a bit of a wake-up call.
“From now on, I don’t care if it’s a hangnail, I’m going in (the training room) to get it cleaned out and make sure I get it covered up,” McCluster said with a laugh.