Brodell Breaks Down Punt Returning

Andy Brodell has yet to hit paydirt as a punt returner during his time in Iowa City. But the senior has been one of the best return men of the Kirk Ferentz era, and began the 2008 season with a 15.2 yard average. Brodell tells you all you ever wanted to know about Iowa's punt return philosophy and more in this Q&A

Q: How did you become a punt returner?

Andy Brodell: I think it kind of started that I did it in high school and the way that our team does it is if you have done that in high school and they have seen you on film, they kind of get guys back there to see who can catch it and they make decisions based on that, and see who can return the ball. Basically it started from that; Coach Erb saw me on film in high school.

Q: Are you a better punt returner or a receiver?

Brodell: I would like to do both equally well, but whatever I can do to help the team. Hopefully I can do both well.

Q: You are fair game back there, does that make your mother nervous?

Brodell: It's a little nerve wracking at time, but the reason I have been successful so far is because you can't get too nervous back there. Those are plays that can make or break a game. It's tough at times, but I look forward to the challenge each week.

Q: How do you keep track of the ball and the head hunters at the same time?

Brodell: To be honest, when the ball is snapped, I peek at the gunners to see what time I will have, and based on the kick, I have an idea of how quickly they will be on me. Other than taking a peek, my eye is on the ball the entire time. The main thing is to be able to field the ball. That is the number one thing. Any yards you get are a bonus.

Q: At what point do you brace for a hit, because you can get hit before you catch it?

Brodell: The biggest thing is to focus on the ball. If they hit you before you get the ball, that is a penalty. Ultimately, I don't think about anything other than catching the ball. Based on the peek I take at the beginning of the snap and the way the ball is kicked, that is how I decide whether to fair catch or run.

Q: How many of your set plays actually work?

Brodell: Last week, it worked quite well. Our blocking scheme varies, like any team. We have right left and middle returns. If we are able to execute the way we need to that gives me a chance to get good yards. The biggest thing are the gunners. If our corners can keep them off of me, as we saw last week, if I catch the ball, I will have 10 or 15 yards before anyone is in the picture. If I have that, it's at least a five to ten yard return. It starts with the guys covering the gunners and the blocking comes into it more after I get past those guys.

Q: How many yards do you want to get to feel that it was a successful punt return?

Brodell: It varies depending on where you are on the field. Our goal is 15 yards, that is our average we want to shoot for. That is pretty high for most teams, but we feel like if we can get there we are giving our offense a good shot.

Q: Do you like to fair catch a ball? Some guys hate it.

Brodell: I have no problem with it at all. Typically, I would rather return the ball than fair catch it. It depends on the situation, like I said, based on the punt and the gunners and where we are on the field.

Q: How do you know where to stand back there, is it scouting?

Brodell: Yes, but how they have done in the game, too and the wind. There are a lot of different things that go into it.

Q: How many yards back are you?

Brodell: Usually around 40. For Donahue in camp, I am 45 back. I like running up on the ball a lot better than going back. Certain guys are better than others. If there is something on film or a change during the game, we do it.

Q: At what point do you look downfield to run?

Brodell: Once I catch the ball and secure it, that is our rule to look it in. It's the same for being a receiver, look the ball in before you can run it. Half of drops are guys that take the eye off the ball because they are looking to run. It's the same for returning.

Q: Have you ever been hit before you caught the ball?

Brodell: Not that I can recall in college. Maybe once or twice in high school but nothing in college.

Q: What takes more guts, kickoff return or punt return?

Brodell: Not to take anything away from KOR, I think punt returners have to be at the top of the list there. Kick return unit, you have plenty of time to catch and secure and go upfield. Punt returns, guys can be right on you.

Q: Kansas had a long return for a TD vs FIU.

Brodell: I haven't seen it on film yet, we will talk about that when we have our punt defense meeting. If there is an opening on film, we try to hit it.

Q: Do you run differently on punt returns, because there is more of a chance to get hit hard.

Brodell: I don't think I consciously think about it. I am sure I am different, but there is a big difference catching the ball behind the linebackers and make a few guys miss, but on punt returns, the free guys let go are the snapper and the personal protector, I have to make them miss. The other guys are accounted for. You worry about more people than you do catching the ball past the linebackers.

Q: How many guys do you have to get by on your own before you can make it?

Brodell: Typically the way we block, it's the PP and the long snapper are let free. Then the gunners are the other big area where we try to block those guys, that is good. If I can get past the gunners and make one guy miss, we can pick everyone else off.

Q: What would you do if you scored on a punt return, pull a Trey Stross (spike)?

Brodell: I would go hand it to the referee, and celebrate with my teammates. Hopefully I can get there this year, that is our goal each time if we have a return set up. Whatever helps the team is all that I want to do. If I can keep 15 yards up, that would be great.

Q: You are a pretty tall punt returner, they are usually smaller.

Brodell: Tim Dwight is a good example. I am taller than most typical punt returners. If you can run a little bit and make a guy miss here and there, and if you can secure the ball, that is the biggest thing.

Q: What was your feeling from special teams from Saturday?

Brodell: It was really good, especially after seeing it on film. We have a lot of things to be happy with. But that is the first game of the year, we have 11 left so it doesn't mean much. We wont be judged on these first two games. Special teams is a huge part of the game, if you don those well you have a chance to win and we did that. A lot of positives but we are in no way where we want to be yet.

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