Published November 20, 2014
He starts. He stops. He weaves, twists, dashes and darts.
Dexter McCluster is hard on tacklers and murder on footwear. Twice since Kansas City drafted the diminutive rookie wide receiver, those churning little feet have actually caused his shoes to start coming apart.
He says it happened once at Mississippi, where the 5-7, 170-pounder rushed for 1,955 yards and added another 1,703 in receiving as he became a first team all-SEC player. It's happening more often now, including once this week as the second-round draft pick made one of those quick cuts that have already made him a fan favorite.
"The bottom came out this time," he said. "It was kind of flapping on me a little bit. But they got me a new pair and I was ready to go."
Broken shoes? That's a new one.
"He's running out of his shoes," said veteran wide receiver Chris Chambers. "I'd never seen it. That's a new thing."
Coaches are working overtime trying to figure out where to use their electrifying rookie and how many touches his slight frame can handle. So far, they've been looking at him as a kick returner, wide receiver and quarterback in the wildcat formation — he threw 27-yard touchdown pass in college.
Another possibility is running back. But they're also concerned about giving him too big a work load.
"I don't feel I'm going to wear down. I want to be ready whenever he calls my number," McCluster said.
He made one eye-popping play on Wednesday, catching the ball on one sideline, then dodging and weaving past would-be tacklers all the way to the corner of the other end zone. The play covered perhaps 40 yards but McCluster — with the crowd yelling "Dexter, Dexter, Dexter!" — probably ran 90.
Everyone except him seemed to be huffing and puffing. He looked like he was having the time of his life.
"My game is quickness. My game is speed," he said. "Wherever the coach wants to utilize that, that's how it's going to be."
He and rookie cornerback Javier Arenas are fighting to be the kick returner. Arenas might have the edge since he was the full-time returner at Alabama and McCluster, because he did so many other things for Ole Miss, had only two punt returns as a senior.
"We are going to work them, we are going to watch them, we are going to evaluate them and then we're going to figure out who gives the best chance and whatever that situation is and then go that direction," said coach Todd Haley. "But me as a head coach, I'm excited about possibilities, potential."
Because of his size, the Chiefs are certain to use McCluster carefully.
"A lot of people are going to doubt me," McCluster said. "But as long as the coaches have that will to give me the ball, I'm not going to complain. I'm having fun playing football. Football's a fun game. You have fun doing it, you're going to win."
If McCluster has Chiefs fans recalling the speedy Dante Hall, he's also starting to draw favorable comparisons to some other awfully good players.
"He reminds me of a couple of guys," said Chambers. "I played with Wes Welker in his early years. I seen him grow. I played with Darren Sproles. He's a little combination of both. He's a really good receiver at times. He's working and getting better. He's extremely quick and he's learning how to use his speed and quickness to his advantage."
He seemed to be having a ball when coaches dragged a portable toilet onto the practice field and set up as bizarre a drill as anyone had ever seen.
One by one, hardly able to suppress a laugh, players were told to go in and take a seat. An assistant coach stood a few feet back while another kept his hand on the closed door. Then he would fling the door open and the other coach would fire a pass into the mobile restroom from about 10 feet away.
"We laughed about it. But it's a great drill actually," said McCluster. "Hand-eye coordination. Be ready for the ball. Never sat in a Porta Potty and caught a football before."
Fortunately, it appeared to be a new one.
"It didn't smell," McCluster said.
It was also easy on shoes.