No Happy, Hester Returns … Friday Cup O’Chiefs

The first kick or punt return that lands in Javier Arenas’ hands on Sunday in Chicago will be the 100th of his NFL career.

That’s 60 kickoff returns and 39 punt returns for a total of 1,455 combined return yards. And, zero touchdowns.

Arenas listened to those numbers as they were read to him, and his chin dropped to his chest on the mention of no scores on returns.

“That’s embarrassing,” Arenas said. “I think about scoring every time I catch the ball and not getting there is frustrating.”

He wants to break through with his first touchdown this weekend in Chicago. It’s not only the fact that he wants one so much, but he wants to do it against the Bears and the best returner in NFL history Devin Hester.

“It’s tough to argue whether he’s the best or not,” Arenas said. “You just have to look at his records; that tells you all you need to know about him.”

Hester’s return numbers are record-setting:

  • 197 punt returns for 2,568 yards, a 13-yard average and 12 touchdowns.
  • 136 kickoff returns for 3,243, a 23.8-yard average and 5 touchdowns.
  • 17 return touchdowns, the most in NFL history and four ahead of the next closest returner, Brian Mitchell with 13.

This season, he already has three returns – two punts, 1 kick offs – for scores. Hester has played six seasons and only twice in his career has he gone an entire season without a return touchdown. Plus, he just turned 29, so there would seem to be little doubt that he’ll push that 17 touchdown total past 20, maybe all the way to 25 before he’s done.

“He is unbelievable; those statistics speak for themselves,” head coach Todd Haley said. “Most teams try to play keep away from him, or try all these different things so he doesn’t get the ball as much. What he does with those opportunities, it’s hard to say anybody has ever done it much better. This guy is off the charts.”

In the Todd Haley era of 44 games with the Chiefs, they’ve had two returns for touchdown – in 2009, Jamaal Charles returned a kickoff 97 yards for a score against Pittsburgh and in the 2010 season opener, Dexter McCluster returned a punt 94 yards to the end zone against San Diego.

That makes them very average in the NFL over the 2009-2011 seasons, and does not even come close to the great eras of returners with the Chiefs in the 1990s with Tamarick Vanover and the 2000s with Dante Hall.

With two returns, the Chiefs are tied with eight other teams for No. 15 in order of teams with most return scores since 2009. That group is led by the Chicago Bears; thanks to Hester, they’ve had eight returns reach the end zone. Arizona, thanks to this year’s rookie sensation Patrick Peterson has seven, while Denver and Dallas had five each. Every team in the league had at least one return for a score.

Return scores used to be regular affairs with the Chiefs. In the 1990s, Vanover had eight TD returns over 82 games in the 1995-99 seasons. In the 2000s, Hall had 11 returns for TDs in 57 games between December 2002 and October 2006. Actually, it was 12 returns in 57 games, counting his kickoff return score in the 2003 playoffs against Indianapolis.

This weekend the story is two-pronged for the Chiefs – how do they stop Hester and how do they get Arenas into the end zone and get the Chiefs back in the return business.


That would seem an obvious strategy – don’t kick him the ball. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple a matter.

“I think everybody takes for granted that punters can get the ball to go exactly where they want it to go,” Haley said. “There are a lot of variables involved in punting, one is weather and wind because it affects the drop and it doesn’t take much of that trouble to create the opportunity for a mishit.

“When you watch teams try to kick it away and out of bounds, sometimes they do it, but the opportunities that he gets generally are mishit. Other ones are when you outkick the coverage; you think you are going to bomb it over his head. He is really, really fast and he covers a lot of ground and runs back and gets the ball and once you get the field stretched out like that is when he’s most dangerous.”

There’s another problem that comes when the coaches decide they are not going to kick to a returner like Hester – the confidence of their coverage units takes a dip, enough that Haley admits it would be a concern for him.

“We have to take all that into account,” Haley said. “Everyone through the years has had their philosophy of how they’ve dealt with this No. 23. There’s no perfect answer. From a coverage team standpoint I’ve been places where we’ve gone through that and you don’t want to take away the stinger from your coverage team.”

That’s the ultimate end to any discussion of Hester – no matter what a team does, it’s unlikely to kick away from him, or punt the ball out of bounds every time. Sooner or later, circumstances are going to call for a kick that he can get his hands on.

“In the end, it always comes back to covering the kick,” Haley said. “There is no exact science. You can’t just go down and place the ball where you want it to be. Everybody has to be covered and you have to assume the return isn’t going to go the way we thought it would go.”


Running backs always need more carries to get “in the groove.” Wide receivers always come back to the huddle or the sideline and tell the quarterback they were “wide open.” Returners of punts and kickoffs always think they are just one block away or move away from breaking it long.

That’s what Arenas feels, but the numbers do not match his beliefs. Only once in two years has Arenas gotten to the end zone – that was in Oakland against the Raiders in the 2010 season. But that 72-yard punt return for a touchdown was wiped out by an illegal block above the waist call against SS Eric Berry.

Among his returns that have counted, Arenas has none that is longer than 37 yards on punt returns and 35 yards on kickoff returns.

“I’m itching for it, just itching for it,” Arenas said. “I should have been in there before. There have been things that I’ve done wrong, things when we all weren’t on the same page. A lot of things have happened. We don’t let that slow us down. We have a lot of faith in each other.”

And make no mistake that Arenas is fired up about going up against Hester on Sunday.

“Absolutely, you always want to go into a game trying to raise the level of your performance to match or better what the guy on the other team is doing,” Arenas said. “Against him, you almost have to score on special teams just to even out what he might do.

“I think he’s great for all phases of special teams because there’s always a lot of attention on kickers, punters and coverage going against him. His blockers, he has a feel for them, and they have a feel for him when he’s back there. He’s always real patient back there. He waits for things to happen and then boom.”

Arenas spends time watching tape of Hester and a few other returners. He quickly acknowledges that he’s not the same type of returner as Hester, but there are common denominators for all returners trying to weave their way down the field with 10 blockers and 11 players trying to tackle him.

“I think I’m patient but obviously I can be more patient,” Arenas said. “You’ve got to have a lot of things go right to make it happen. Everybody has to make a good block and he has to take advantage of it. That’s what I watch with him and other great returners, how they set up their blocks, the patience they have, and the blocking that’s going on around them.

“He has a knack for it,” Arenas added of Hester. “It’s not so much his speed or his moves. He just has a knack.”

One Response to “No Happy, Hester Returns … Friday Cup O’Chiefs”

  • December 2, 2011  - napahank says:

    Except in rare circumstances (Dante Hall vs. Denver punt return) the outcome of punt returns or kickoff returns is “mostly” out of the hands of the returner.

    First you must take into consideration the touch-backs/out of bounds punts/fair catches and then the blocking has to be set up for kickoffs and punt returns…and don’t forget some good to great returns called back by penalty.

    What is significant is how well the blockers are schooled in blocking and what does the returner do with the opportunity he has. I for one think the Chiefs have a very good return special teams and an excellent cover special teams.

    Would I take Hester…heck yes, but there is only one “Hester” right now. If he Chiefs had Hester the players would discipline their blocking even more with the increased potential to score on any returnable kickoff/punt. If Javier would score on just one return the blocking units would focus even more on the next opportunity and it would become self feeding.

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