NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE
One Hall of a month
Kansas City return man gains recognition after making history
Published: Wednesday, October 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 30, 2003 at 10:57 p.m.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Why are teams still kicking the ball to the only guy in NFL history with touchdown returns in three consecutive games?
Because in the long run, squibbing a kickoff down the middle or trying to place a punt precisely out of bounds might actually be even more harmful than chasing down the shifty Dante Hall.
In a victory over Baltimore on Sunday that kept the Chiefs (4-0) unbeaten, Kansas City's 5-foot-8 return specialist had a touchdown return for the third week in a row.
Also for the third straight time, Hall was named the AFC's special teams player of the week, another NFL first for the former fifth-round draft pick who struggled to keep his job two years ago. Hall was out of town Tuesday and unavailable for comment.
"You can say, 'Well, we'll punt it out of bounds,' " special teams coach Frank Gansz Jr. said. "But it's not as easy as you think it is. Even the best punters can shank one in that situation, and then you've put yourself in a big hole.
"At the same time, I'm sure they're not telling them to punt the ball down the middle of the field to this guy."
Having the ball sail out of bounds on the kickoff is even less an option. The receiving team in that instance automatically gets the ball on its own 40. Or it can make the kicking team kick it over.
One alternative is the "squib" kick, where the ball hardly gets off the ground and goes bouncing down the field toward the "wedge" where six or eight blockers are bunched in the middle to form a convoy for the returner.
But that, too, is dicey.
"Squib kicks have a higher percentage of going out of bounds," coach Dick Vermeil said.
"And squib kicks normally don't go very far. They bounce around in the wedge. If it went into the wedge, we'd catch it and flip it back to Dante anyway. We would probably average a better starting field position if they squib-kicked it than if they didn't."
A huge factor in Hall's success has been the blocking of the return units. Baltimore came into the game ranked No. 1 in defending against kickoffs. But the blocking was so superb on his long kickoff return, Hall had to make only one man miss, the kicker, as he sailed down field.
Linebacker Mike Maslowski actually had three different blocks on Hall's punt return in Houston. Hall has taken the drudgery out of special teams duty.
"It really motivates the effort, and it adds a deeper level of confidence and belief you can be successful," Vermeil said. "And it also makes you feel more like an important contributing part of the team.
"No matter how you preach as a coach, there is a tendency for special teams players not to believe it's as important as the offensive or defensive snap. And it is."
Kansas City wide receiver Dante Hall and the undefeated Chiefs meet the undefeated Broncos on Sunday.
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