Chiefs Roster: Why ending the punter battle early was smart

Tony Nguyen | Kansas City Chiefs
June 16, 2024

A major training camp question for the Kansas City Chiefs was expected to be a competition at punter.

After four seasons with the Chiefs, Tommy Townsend signed with the Houston Texans as an unrestricted free agent. The writing for Townsend’s departure had seemingly been on the wall since Kansas City signed former San Diego State punter Matt Araiza a month earlier.

Following the draft, the Chiefs brought in BYU’s Ryan Rehkow as an undrafted free agent to compete with Araiza to replace Townsend. The stage was seemingly set for fierce competition at the position.

Earlier in the offseason, Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub declined to put a timeline on the decision between Araiza and Rehkow. He also stressed that kicker Harrison Butker would have some input on which option would serve as his new holder.

“We’re practicing everything, the holds, the throws… who can throw better. We’re trying to look at everything to evaluate it,” Toub said of the search. “Holds are important. [Harrison] Butker’s going to be involved. I’m going to talk to him [to see] who he likes when it comes time. We don’t know when we’re going to make that decision.”

It turns out that decision was made at the end of the team’s mandatory minicamp this week as Rehkow was waived to free a roster spot for former Montana defensive tackle Alex Gubner after a successful tryout.

Based on recent trends, there are two major reasons to not be surprised the punter decision was made long before the team heads to Missouri Western State University for training camp in late July.

Installation vs. competition

Toub and head coach Andy Reid are meticulous with details on special teams. While they both endlessly offer coach-speak about competition in their public comments, Toub and Reid greatly value having the playbook installed well before training camp.

This would have made a true camp competition between Araiza and Rehkow problematic because of their major differences.

Splitting precious practice reps between the two in St. Joseph would have made it difficult to evaluate coverage gunner options — a major way for raw talent to make a case for the active roster. The left-footed Araiza — with booming distance on punts based on college film and the 2022 preseason while with the Buffalo Bills — would likely require alternating formations from the other 10 players than the more traditional power of the right-footed Rehkow.

No one should be surprised that the always-thorough Toub made an early decision about which foot his punter would kick with, allowing him to better plan for the talent around Araiza.

The 2020 punter competition

The Chiefs also made a quick decision the last time they had a punter opening in 2020. After the team moved on from Dustin Colquitt after 15 years on the job, they signed former Notre Dame punter Tyler Newsome as a street free agent. Following the 2020 draft, the team inked Townsend out of Florida.

Kansas City Chiefs v Miami Dolphins

Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Toub’s thoughts about the 2020 punter battle similarly promised fierce competition.

“They both have really strong legs, really powerful legs,” Toub remarked. “They consistently hit over 5.0 [second] hangtimes, which is really impressive. Tommy’s a little bit more clean in his technique, as far as consistency. Whereas Tyler is a little bit more erratic with his technique, but the results are the same. They both bomb the ball. We just need to clean Tyler up a little more, but I tell you what, the competition is going to be real fun.”

Ultimately, the 2020 punting battle also ended early as Newsome was released on July 28. While he technically made it to training camp, all offseason work was done virtually due to the pandemic.

The Chiefs clearly made the right decision. Townsend went on to be named First Team All-Pro for the position in 2022, while Newsome bounced around the league for a period while never appearing in a game.

If Toub can make a punter evaluation based heavily on what Townsend did via Zoom workouts, there is little reason to doubt the decision after a month of seeing Araiza and Rehkow in the actual building.

The bottom line

Even 90-man roster spots are valuable, and it is difficult to justify taking two punters to camp. The Chiefs clearly valued a reserve defensive lineman for practice purposes, given that returning players Derrick Nnadi and Charles Omenihu are coming off of season-ending surgeries.

More minor moves may be needed. Now that he is (thankfully) seemingly on the road to recovery, the Chiefs will soon face the uncomfortable task of determining pass rusher BJ Thompson’s status. Other Chiefs face injury concerns ahead of camp, and a reunion with free agent tackle Donovan Smith cannot be ruled out until one of Kingsley Suamataia or Wanya Morris outright wins the left tackle competition.

With a three-peat on the line, Kansas City made a key decision early that can directly affect the roster’s fringe players. They also did right by Rehkow, who will have an opportunity to seek a new team before training camp.