In player and performance, the Chiefs’ kick-return game brought an air of unfamiliar to last week’s game against the Chicago Bears.
Montrell Washington, playing his first game for the Chiefs, returned his first punt 23 yards. That was a season long, and Washington averaged 11 yards on three attempts.
For the first two games, Richie James handled the return duties. But he suffered a knee injury in the Week 2 victory at Jacksonville, and could be out for an extended period.
The Chiefs could have turned to several options with experience: Wide receivers Justin Watson and Kadarius Toney had returned punts. Running back Isiah Pacheco was the team’s primary kickoff return specialist last season.
Instead, Washington lined up at both spots in the 41-10 victory over the Bears, and the job appears to be his.
“I enjoyed everything about it,” Washington said of his Chiefs debut. “I’m just playing my role. For me to be able to get out there and get good field position, you can’t ask for more.”
Washington’s 23-yard return set the tone for the Chiefs’ first touchdown. His next two returns started possessions that ended with 10 points.
“The guys blocked, they did their job,” Washington said. “I did the easy part: just run, getting downfield.”
Elevated from the practice squad late in the week, Washington had a sense he’d get the call. He’d been told be be ready for action.
Returning kicks was Washington’s primary role with the Denver Broncos. A fifth-round pick from Samford in the 2022 NFL Draft, Washington averaged 8.5 yards on 32 punt returns and 18.9 yards on 18 kickoff returns. He caught four passes as a wide receiver.
The Broncos drafted wide receiver Marvin Mims, also a return specialist, and waived Washington. The Chiefs signed him, adding depth to the return game and at wide receiver.
“His main focus is as a returner, but he can do both,” Andy Reid said.
Washington was coming off an All-America season at Samford, leading FCS in all-purpose yards, when he entered the draft. He ran a solid 4.48 40-yard dash but figured his NFL bid would be as an undrafted free agent.
“I wasn’t even worried about the draft to be honest with you,” Washington said the day he was selected . “I just worked, and if it happened (it happened). If it didn’t it didn’t.”
It’s only been one game for the Chiefs, but the returns have been positive.
“Being a punt returner, you’re a spark, get those guys fired up,” Washington said. “The fact that I was able to get guys excited and ready to go out there and make plays, that’s my job. That’s all I want to do.”