Chiefs benefit from bold punt returns

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The days when a punt returner was told to dig in his heels at the 10-yard line and never retreat to catch a kick might have been less stressful but also less exciting.

Kansas City Chiefs punt returner Frankie Hammond Jr. prefers things the way they are now, when he's given permission to field and return anything he sees fit, anywhere on the field. Hammond fielded two punts inside the 5 in last week's game against the Miami Dolphins.

"It's just kind of a gray area," Hammond said. "A lot can go wrong and then a lot can go good. Sometimes it's one of those things where you catch it and everybody is 'no, no, no' but then it's like 'yeah, yeah, yeah, maybe that does work.'

"You've got to be a great decision maker. You've got to be smart and have a feel for the game and how things are going. You can't really know which way you're going when you're back there. It's a quick decision, do I go for it or not? It's just something you have a feel for when you're back there."

Give the Chiefs credit for giving Hammond the freedom to make unorthodox decisions. Much can go wrong when trying to field a punt anywhere on the field much less inside the 10.

Hammond too deserves credit for making the Chiefs look good. He had a 47-yard return in the fourth quarter in Miami after fielding a punt on the 4. The Chiefs used the resulting field position to drive for a touchdown that gave them a 27-15 lead.

Hammond may be benched as a returner this week if De'Anthony Thomas returns from a strained hamstring. But his bold moves in Miami helped the Chiefs get their first win of the season. Hammond also had a 48-yard return that he caught at the goal line wiped out by a penalty.

Hammond returned punts in college at Florida, where he had strict instructions to never field a punt beyond the 10.

"The philosophy is the same here," he said. "They tell me that but they also say if you've got room to make something happen ... . The feedback I get from (special teams coordinator Dave Toub) is positive. He said I made some great decisions. For the most part, he's trusting me and trusting my decisions. He's got my back."

Hammond has his own back. After reviewing on video the choices he made in Miami, where he also field punts on the 10 and 12, he has no regrets.

"No, I would stick to what I did," he said. "It looks good when you catch it at the 4 and take it 50 yards. But when you catch it at the 4 and take it to the 10 ... sometimes you have to take that chance. If it's inside the 5 and I know I've got room and there's not a guy in my face, I'll treat it as if we were at midfield."