Under the Headset

Last week, we introduced a new feature here on the site. The new feature is a weekly feature about X's and O's and other variables about the game of football from The Coach. This week's topic is punting.

The statistics are undeniable. The punt is the most important play football. If a team has a punt blocked it will lose around 80% of the time. Also the punt is the one play that will swing field position like no other. When offenses and defenses are on the field how often does a change of possession occur? How often does a 35-yard change in field position occur? These are just some of the reasons why the punt team is so important.

Since a blocked punt results in a huge chance of a loss, the special teams spend more time on the punt team than anything else. I like to break the punt team into stages. First off is the formation.

As some of you might remember, the spread punt formation has not always been around. Let us take a minute to look at that because it really changed what I did as a special teams coordinator. The tight formation, two tight ends, only has two real passing threats on a fake punt. They are the two tight ends. The spread formation has four threats, the two gunners and the two slots. The punt return team must take into account the fake punt pass much more in the spread formation. This formation also removes two or more potential punt rushers to cover the gunners. It also can slow down the two rushers who must account for the slots to release into a pass pattern.

The spread formation gives the advantage of better coverage, but is also helps in protection due to removing people from the box and slowing rushers down. This only works when the threat of a fake is at hand.

The first thing a punt team must be able to do is get its alignment correct. The punter must line up at 13 yards behind the long snapper; any thing more or less will increase the chance of a blocked punt. The next numbers are guidelines and teams vary these to some degree. The guards will be one foot away from the long snapper. The tackles will be two feet from the guards. The wings are two feet outside the tackles, they than raise their hand and go deep enough so that their hand touches the outside hip of the tackle. The personal protector is typically aligned in the A gap to the side of the punters leg and is six yards deep.

We practice this at the beginning of the season all the time. Our first drill is to run from the sidelines and get set in a good alignment. We line up. We also check the players' stances here. Once we get a good alignment with a good stance we sprint back to the sideline.

Next comes the protection call. There is a protection call for the right and a protection call for the left side of the punt team. There are two types of protections that we use. There is man protection and zone protection. The right and left side could be doing the same protection or different protections. The personal protector determines the correct call. Here is what he sees:

The simple rule is this for the personal protector. You move to the side of the most men. Whatever side you are on gives us four blockers. The other side has three blockers. If the side you are on has five or more rushers call zone, if there are four rushers or less call man. Backside four or more call zone, three or less call man.

We run repetition after repetition with the punt team to make sure the right protection is called and the right man assignments are taken.

The next thing that is worked on are the proper steps for the punt team. Everyone must make the same steps. We use a kick-slide step that moves the punt team backwards. The pocket that is formed with the initial alignment must stay intact as the protection people take their steps.

Once again we do drill after drill to ensure that the steps are done correctly and that the pocket stays sound. We will do all these things during camps and two-a-days without evening seeing a live rush.

Then once we get that se,t we teach the players proper technique to take on rushers. We will but one protector against two rushers to work on zone steps. We will put two protectors against two rushers to work on man steps.

Lastly, the kicking coach works with the punter on fielding a punt and getting the kick off. Of course all of this starts with good snap!

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