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Special Teams.
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Philosophy of Special Teams
Kick Offs
Kick Off Returns
Fake Kicks & Blocks
Techniques and Drills
Field Goals & Extra Points
Punts
Punt Returns
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The Kick Off
    There are many possible formations when kicking the ball off to the receiving team.  Regardless of the actual alignment, the eleven men of the kickoff team line up at the line of scrimmage. Personally, I favor the method of keeping two "head hunters" back with the kicker.  This allows these players to gain full stride at the line of scrimmage when the ball is kicked and speeds their progress to the ball.  Often a coach will specify one, two, even three inside linemen specific duty to be the "wedge busters."  These player's first objective is to destroy the wedge, breaking down the returning team's  blocking scheme.  The one true golden rule of the kick off team is for a player to stay within the specified lane assigned.  Routes to the ball carrier should be taken at such an angle as to deter a returnee from changing directions.  While running down the field to tackle, the members of the kicking team should keep the ball carrier to the inside shoulder, never allowing the ball carrier to the outside shoulder of the would be tackler.  The outside player to each side has ultimate containment responsibility.  The kicker is the safety, the last tackler.



Kick Off Returns
I employ five types of kick off return teams.  They are the standard Wedge, the Wall, the Reverse, the Anything Goes (desperation), and the Hands Team.  The Wedge calls for 5 linemen up front, ten yards from the ball as the first wall.  These linemen are seldom the largest on the team, as both size and speed are requirements for inclusion to the kick off team--an honored position on my team.  The second wall has three players.  These players are usually of the linebacker, tight end, or fullback variety.  An up back, and two deep backs round out the formation.  The front line's primary responsibility is to ensure the ball is in fact kicked deep.  After verifying the kick, the center turns his back to the kicking team and sprints back towards the deep backs looking directly at the up back.  When the up back points to, or otherwise signals the center, the center turns around and starts back up field.  The two guards to each immediate side of the center do not turn their backs to the kicking team.  Instead, they run diagonally back narrowing their relative proximity to the center.  The tackles do the same, narrowing down the gaps from the guards.  When the center turns around, the other four linemen come shoulder to shoulder and sprint up field presenting a unified front, or wedge of massive bodies.  Their responsibility is not to single out individual defenders to block, rather it is to maintain the wedge and progress rapidly up field.  The first line should never drop back past the 25 (or 20) yard line before racing back up field.
    The second line back peddles no more than 10 yards and forms a second wall joined by the up back and the non receiving deep back.  This second wall fills any gaps created in the wedge and picks off specific tacklers as they threaten the wedge, particularly from the flanks.
    The ball returnee falls in behind the wedge seeking and willing to follow the mass of bodies up field, but remains poised and ready to explode through any presenting gap or seam that might become available.  The wedge can be run regardless of where the kick goes, as the ball carrier can run to the wedge. Shown below is a diagram of the theory of the Wedge.


The Wall Kick Return attacks up the side line rather than up the middle of the field. The wall can best be used when the kick is to the one side of the field, but can easily be run even if the kick is straight.  All the blockers except for the two farthest from the returnee race to the side line.  The front five sprint back 10 yards then the closest three race to the side line at the front of the wall.  The outside two line men "lag" behind and form a cut back lane for the returnee, picking off would be tacklers as they cut back with the runner.  Players forming the wall do not run squarely up field.  Rather, they shuffle up field shoulders parallel to the side lines, hands extended.  Their objective is not to extend and block, but to present an obstacle for would be tacklers.  The non receiving deep back leads the returnee up field, his main objective being to remain on his feet and in front of the ball carrier.  The diagram here shows the theory of the Wall Return.
    The Reverse simply calls for calling and blocking to one side, then the non receiving deep back takes the hand off from the original receiver.  The new ball carrier runs without blocking support to the opposite side line much like a quarterback boot leg.
    The Anything Goes is a practiced series of laterals in desperation mode which may include a huddling of the up back and the two deep backs after the reception in order to hand the ball to a 'secret' ball carrier.
    The Hands Team calls for the replacement of the front five linemen with receivers and backs designed to thwart an obvious oncoming onside kick from the opposition.



Punt Returns
The Punt Return team can use the wall method as well with only slight modification. The down linemen make contact with the blockers, sustaining contact until the ball is kicked.  Then the linemen sprint in reverse order to the predetermined sideline--as in punt return right.  Linemen furthest from the sideline race to the forward positions of the wall and follow blocking procedures outlined in the Wall Return.  Linemen closest to the play assume the nearest positions to the ball carrier.  The up back (20 yards from the line of scrimmage) and the non receiving deep back are responsible for the two men on offense eligible to release down field prior to the kick.  In the event the ball is kicked to the opposite side line the return is called, the wall comes directly across the field at a right angle allowing the returnee to use their bodies as posts or picks to cut off pursuing tacklers.  As in all kick returns, the "Eyes Rule" of blocking applies.  If you can't see the defenders eyes, don't hit him.



Punts
    The punting team has lane responsibilities similar to the kick off team with the same rules of containment.  The outside two wide outs are allowed to race down field prior to the kick and are expected to disrupt any blocking schemes at the point of reception.  Linemen on the punting team hold their respective blocks until the ball is kicked at which time the up back notifies them of such by yelling out the direction of the kick, as in yelling "Right!"



Field Goals and Extra Points
    Place kicking is practiced each and every day of practice.  The kicker's success ratio is kept track of and exploited as a source of pride for the entire team.  There are seven large bodies on the line of scrimmage with two tight wing backs one step back.  The center does not "power snap' the football (like in a punt) as accuracy is the key here.  The linemen step with their inside foot behind the outside foot of the person immediately inside of their position linking their torsos in a unified front.  The hands extend with the elbows locked.  The stance is a power two point stance, feet flat, knees unlocked, slightly bent at the waist.  The outside wings have the more difficult responsibility.  Their job often involves trying to block two men attacking at different angles.  The rule of thumb is to never allow penetration to the inside and at least put a locked hand and arm on the outside rusher.



Fake Punts, Fake Field Goals, and Onside Kicks
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    The Fake Punt -- Any play which can be run from a one back (up back), shotgun formation can be run as a fake punt. Shown here is a variation of George Allan's Blue Flood, a pass play from the punting formation.  The quarterback also has the option of running for the first down.
    Fake Field Goals are run in limited number of ways.  The snap can be to the holder or kicker with either rushing to a specified running lane, or passing the ball while the other player blocks for the passer.
    Onside Kicks are attempted with all players stacked on one side of the ball or not.  The theories of element of surprise versus creating a numerical mismatch duel here.  Another option is to have the kicker try to pooch the ball just over the front line with ones own team sprinting past the would be blockers.  The kicker should try to kick the ball in such a way as to cause it to bounce high in the air.  This should be a regular drill for the kicker in practice.



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Drills to Improve Special Teams Play
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The Pressure Cooker Drill involves the kicker (or punter), the snapper, and two designated kick blockers five to seven yards down the line of scrimmage from the Center.  The holder is also present if working on the place kicking.  On the snap both defenders rushes the kick.  It is the Center's responsibility to snap the ball accurately then pick up one of the rushers.  This drill helps the Center by snapping the ball and getting to his block smoothly.  It helps the defenders perfect the kick rush, and it helps the kicker (and holder) concentrate on quickness and accuracy under pressure.
The Live Kick Drill has the offensive kicking unit kick the ball live against a full defense.  Motivation for the defenders might include exclusion from post practice running exercises if a kick is blocked.  Since it takes considerable effort to actually block a kick, players spending such repeated amounts of energy in an attempt to block a kick are actually getting their conditioning and honing kick rushing skills at the same time.
Other rules for Special Teams Drills
Punters always kick a ball snapped by a Center.  Centers, holders, and kickers work as three man units--never mix and match.  Punt returnees always field punted balls.  Punts that fall near the ten yard line serve a dual purpose.  Punt return men can then practice not catching punts inside the ten yard line, as well as calling for real and fake fair catches.  Ball tip drills and fumble recovery drills should be a regular theme.

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