Kansas City, Mo. The Kansas City Chiefs will be missing their starting left tackle, top tight end, leading pass rusher and now potentially their most dangerous punt returner for Sunday’s game at Oakland.
Dexter McCluster, who has already brought back two punts for touchdowns this season, was listed as questionable Friday for the Raiders game after a small cut on his ankle that he picked up in the mud and snow last week against Washington got infected.
The Chiefs were already preparing to play without left tackle Branden Albert (hyperextended knee), tight end Anthony Fasano (concussion) and linebacker Justin Houston (dislocated elbow).
Chiefs trainer Rick Burkholder said Friday that an MRI and X-rays on McCluster’s ankle showed no structural damage. But swabs taken at the infection site have not been analyzed, and Burkholder said “the big question is ‘Does he have MRSA?’ and we don’t know that yet.”
MRSA is a potentially deadly strain of staph infection that is resistant to antibiotics and recently generated headlines when an infection hit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ locker room earlier this season. Offensive lineman Carl Nicks, kicker Lawrence Tynes and cornerback Johnthan Banks all were diagnosed with it.
After initially treating his infection with antibiotics, Nicks developed a recurrence and needed surgery. Tynes was put on the non-football injury list, while Banks was not sidelined.
“He had a very minor procedure where they opened up the wound, cleaned it out, got him on IV antibiotics and he was released today,” Burkholder said. “He still has a chance to play on Sunday because it is basically a laceration that he had an infection in.”
Burkholder acknowledged, though, that “we don’t have all the cultures back.”
McCluster is the Chiefs’ third-leading receiver with 46 catches for 438 yards and a touchdown, but his real value comes on special teams. He set a franchise record with 177 yards in punt returns last week against the Redskins, including a 74-yard return for a touchdown.
He needs just 10 yards in punt returns to break Tamarick Vanover’s franchise record of 640 yards set during the 1999 season. His 54 returns this season are also second-most in Chiefs history.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid said that Chad Hall, who was signed Friday after recently getting released, could return punts if McCluster is unable to play against Oakland. Defensive back Quintin Demps, who also returns kicks, could be another option.
“Well, Dexter is not out, but Chad can do that, yes,” Reid said. “You have Chad and Quintin that can do it. Chad has been working it the whole time as has Quintin so we’ll just see how that goes.”
Albert, who is the Chiefs’ franchise player, will miss his second straight game after hurting his left knee two weeks ago against Denver. Donald Stephenson will start at left tackle in his place.
Fasano will also miss his second straight game after his head slammed into the turf against while trying to make a catch against the Broncos. Houston will be sidelined for the third straight week after he dislocated his right elbow in the first half against San Diego on Nov. 24.
“They’re making progress, in particular the last two,” Reid said of the three other injured starters. “They worked out all week and did a pretty good job during the workouts, working with the scout team, but they’re not quite ready yet.”