Maybe Dexter McCluster has found a home after all.
McCluster, who shuttled between wide receiver, slot receiver, kick returner and running back in his first two seasons with the Chiefs, has settled in as a slot receiver this year and has enjoyed a productive training camp.
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In the preseason opener against the Cardinals, he caught three passes for 45 yards — one for 7 yards on the first play from scrimmage, another for 9 yards on the third play of the game that converted a third and three; and then a pass downfield for 29 yards to the Arizona 4 that set up the Chiefs’ second touchdown.
“Dexter has not been an overall surprise,” coach Romeo Crennel said, “but he’s been good at what we’ve asked him to do. There was some question about asking him to do too much, where were we going to play him, and he’s handled it nicely.”
McCluster is just happy getting touches of the football no matter where they come from.
“I prefer whatever …” he said. “I’m not a guy that’s going to run away from anything.”
Wide receiver Jon Baldwin threw a scare into the Chiefs when he went down in a heap while trying to make a leaping catch over cornerback Jailil Brown on the sideline. Baldwin, who has had an outstanding training camp in the absence of Dwayne Bowe, remained on the ground for nearly a minute and gingerly walked off the field.
He returned to practice a few minutes later, so clearly he wasn’t seriously injured.
The Chiefs have made improving their return-game a priority this season, and rookie Devon Wylie’s 32-yard punt return in the preseason opener against Arizona would have been the Chiefs’ third-longest return of the season in 2011. Javier Arenas returned a kickoff 31 yards in Friday’s game against Arizona. The Chiefs averaged just 21.3 yards per kickoff return, which ranked 30th in the NFL.
“The guys are working at it, and we were able to get a (good) return last week,” head coach Romeo Crennel said. “But you have to get the returns in the game to know what you have. In practice, all the guys know the right assignments and go to the right spots. But when you do it in the game, when that adrenaline is flowing and you’re doing it against a different opponent, it doesn’t always work out the way it does in practice.
“I like our ability in the return game. Now we have to do that in the game, execute and take advantage of that ability.”
Flowers’ slow-healing heel
Cornerback Brandon Flowers’ absence from practice due to a heel injury is now into its third week, which is a growing concern for the Chiefs.
It won’t be long before the NFL’s second-leading receiver, Roddy White (100 receptions, eight TDs) and dynamic second-year receiver, Julio Jones (54 catches, eight TDs) come to Arrowhead with the Falcons for the Sept. 9 regular-season opener, and the Chiefs could ill afford to be without their best cover corner.
“Everybody heals differently, so all we can do is talk to our trainer who consults with the doctors and try to find out what they know, what they think, and then they let me know,” Crennel said. “It’s always when he’s ready. I don’t know his body, he knows his body better than I do. He knows whether he’s hurt or what he’s capable of.”
The Chiefs are not altering their coverage schemes to compensate for Flowers’ absence. Second-year man Jalil Brown had been starting at left corner in place of Flowers, but newcomer Jacques Reeves was in that spot during Wednesday’s practice, and Brown slid over to the right side ahead of Stanford Routt.
“We’re in the evaluation process,” Crennel said, “and I need to find out whether that guy behind (Flowers) can do what I need done. I’m not changing what I’m teaching or how we’re going to play because Flowers is not there.”