University, it is an honor to have the opportunity to share some of our special teams philosophies and coaching tech- niques with you. I have been blessed to work with a great head coach and staff that are willing to emphasize the importance of special teams in every football game. I would like to share our philosophy on spe- cial teams and specifically concentrate on one of our special teams, the punt rush and return team.
Our philosophy on special teams is sim- ple. We treat each football game as one that has three components, offense, defense and special teams. Many staffs concentrate so heavily on offense or defense that special teams becomes a mere after-thought. We feel if we can win two of the three phases each game, the scoreboard at the end of the game will read in our favor. An opponent may be as good or better than you on offense or defense, but there is no excuse for not preparing your team for some type of advantage when it comes to special teams.
As you know, football is a game of field position. We talk to our players every week about special teams winning the battle of field position. I hear coaches talk about how they emphasize special teams to their teams. Yet, some sacrifice talent for just a body on the field. We play our best players on special teams, regardless if he is a starter, all-conference player or All- American. I never want to sacrifice ability, especially when a special team play can be so important during the course of a game.
We put our \u201cbest 11\u201d on the field every special team play. One special team play, good or bad, could change the flow of a game. The quickest way to change the momentum of a game is to have some spe- cial team big play. Our players are told this every day, and they ultimately understand the importance of each special team play.
I emphasize to our players if fatigue becomes a factor in a ballgame, take a play or two off on offense or defense respectful- ly. Many disagree with me on this issue, but again I go on the philosophy of a special team play changing the momentum of a game and changing it quickly. We never take a rest on any special team play. Our general philosophy every year is stated as such: Special teams will determine the out- come of any close game.
A unique aspect of our special teams approach is our coaching style. Just like we never sacrifice talent on our special teams, we coach in the same manner. During spe- cial team periods at practice, our coaches are not on a break. I may be responsible for the special teams at Valdosta State, but each coach on our staff will coach as though they are coaching offense or defense.
We may have five or six coaches on any phase of special teams. We try to limit the player to coach ratio to no more than three to one. This ratio gives our players the best opportunity to be coached and to learn. These coaches are coaching their players as hard as they would their own position players. Not only are they coaching hard, but they are coaching with enthusiasm.
Our players see the enthusiasm of the special team coaches and they in turn feed off of this enthusiasm. They realize the importance of special teams when the defensive coordinator is coaching the end on the punt team or the center on the kick- off return team. One other technique I have used that has been successful for us is assigning graduate assistants or student assistants to \u201ccoordinate\u201d a certain phase of the scout special teams.
They are responsible for the scout depth chart and coaching of the opponent\u2019s tech - niques and schemes. I have also used these same graduate assistants and stu- dent assistants in coaching on other spe- cial teams. You will be surprised how hun- gry these guys are to coach. They do film and computer breakdowns, draw cards, etc., just waiting for an opportunity to coach. By allowing them to coach the var- sity players, you will be surprised how hard they coach. They take this opportunity very seriously.
Most coaches hire graduate assistants and promise them an opportunity to learn to coach, yet all they do is computer or card work. You can live up to your promise by allowing them an opportunity to coach on your special teams. They will certainly appreciate the opportunity and make the most of it. It is certainly a morale boost for many. I have been pleased with every graduate or student assistant coach I have had helping me in coaching special teams.
the importance and enthusiasm of special teams. It is because of this enthusiasm I believe we have been successful in our special teams.
Our most successful special team over the last two years has been our punt rush and return team. After the 2000 season, I approached our head coach, Chris Hatcher, on our philosophy of punt rush. I requested that we become more aggres- sive and try to block more punts or force our opposition into bad punts. It was a rare occasion that we attempted to block punts.
We had a more conservative approach to be safe and just field the punts and maybe break a return or two. He agreed to my request and we immediately put an emphasis on attacking punts. I wanted pun- ters to fear our rush. I thought if people would put more emphasis on stopping our Punt Rush and Return team that other spe- cial teams would be sacrificed in practice.
Many head coaches schedule only a certain amount of time for special teams in a practice. For example, a head coach may schedule 20 minutes for punt and kick off; with usually the minutes being split evenly, 10 and 10. I wanted our punt rush and return team to force a 15 or so minute peri- od and then kick off would be trimmed to five minutes. Obviously, the kickoff team would not get the proper practice and pos- sibly suffer on Saturday. Advantage us!
From the first day, we talk about this phase of special teams with the staff and with the players, we always refer to it as punt, rush and return. We have made the decision to block more punts, but realisti- cally know we cannot get every one. Thus, we have to then set up a return. We put an emphasis on finishing the play. If we do not block the punt, the play is not over.
Bust your fanny and set up a great return. This is why we always refer to this team as punt rush and return! We started a list of what we refer to as \u201cMake a Difference\u201d (MAD) plays on this team. Ever since our emphasis has switched to an attack style team, we have had 51 MAD plays in 74 block attempts. This doesn\u2019t mean we have blocked 51 punts. Included in the MAD plays are fumbled snaps by the punter, punts of less than 20 yards due to our pressure, blocked punts, stopping a fake, returns for touchdowns or returns that create a 20 yard or less net punt.
We have blocked 15 punts over the past two years and returned three for touch- downs. The others have fallen into the cat-
egory of shanks, big returns, fumbled snaps or stopping a fake. As you can see by simple algebra, we have a MAD suc- cess rate of 69 percent on block attempts. As stated earlier, it is a game of field posi- tion. When holding your opponents to 20 yards or less per punt, you are giving your - self a very good chance of winning.
We install punt rush and return in seven phases. I will give you the phase and the number of practices we normally use in the installation period. Depending upon your team, returning players, etc., the length it may take to install, can and sometimes will be varied.
ers, when blocking a punt, to never leave your feet. The fastest way to get to the block point is to run through that point. We begin by standing one step from a punter. As the punter drops the ball (he will not take a step), we step across his foot and take the ball off of his foot. It is important to always use a punter as to insure a proper drop.
Simply using a body will not suffice, as this \u201cbody\u201d never practices a drop. This is a great opportunity to work with your punters on their drops. We film this phase and coach the blockers, as well as our punters on the drop. We will put two punters on each hash. Our blockers form a line outside of the hash and, as stated earlier, will be one step from the punter.
As the punter drops the ball, the blocker will extend his arms and hands creating a term we use as a \u201cbig mitt.\u201d Placing the hands close together, palms to the ball, with the thumbs and pointer finger approxi - mately one inch apart creates the \u201cbig mitt.\u201d Expand your fingers as much as possible to create a large mitt. The fingers should be extended but relaxed. The hands should never move apart.
We teach our players to run and reach out at the last second for the ball. It is at this last second that we form the \u201cbig mitt.\u201d The eyes should be focused on the foot- ball. We take the ball off of the foot with our eyes and hands. Keep a coach close enough to see the eyes of the blockers. You always want to make sure that they are looking the ball off of the foot, and also are not closing their eyes.
the foot. Swatting causes the timing of the block to be thrown off. It also does not give the advantage of a reach in front. The reach on a swat is up, the reach on a prop- er block is out. A block that is made by soft hands is every bit as good as one that is swatted backwards. This is a common mis- take by players first learning to block kicks.
An understanding of forward momentum through the block point, coupled with the hands on the ball will many times force a blocked ball in the same direction as your momentum, backwards. Swatting doesn\u2019t insure the block will go backwards. Common phrases you hear during this installation period by our coaches will be, \u201csee the ball of the foot,\u201d \u201ctake the ball off of the foot\u201d and \u201cdo not swat at the ball.\u201d Make sure players are going through both lines in order to assure the block is coming across the punter from the right as well as the left.
feel your players have a good feel of taking the ball off of the foot, back the blockers up five yards and also move the punter back two yards. Stay at an angle coming across the punter\u2019s foot. During this phase, the punter will take one step and punt the ball. Your blockers should make a five-yard burst through the block point. Emphasis should be made that the block point is two yards in front of the punter, not where the punter is standing.
Placing a hat or small cone at the block point will assist in teaching this concept. Have the players run through the block point. Never slow down. The techniques taught in Phase No. 1 are still stressed. It just becomes a more up-tempo period and the balls are coming off of the foot a little harder. The blockers should again change lanes in order to come across the punters foot from the right and the left.
be able to tell who has a good feel of what it takes to block punts. We will now install getting to the block point as quickly as pos- sible. We teach a sprinter\u2019s stance; high butt, off arm high in the air, weight on the down hand and eyes on the football. Emphasize staying low when the ball is snapped.
We use the off hand that is high for a power thrust and we stay low and skinny. You do not want to show your jersey num- ber. Showing the jersey number will create a large circumference area for the punt pro-
tector to punch. We want to give the pro- tector as little to punch as possible. Getting underneath the blocker is the ideal rush technique. We always use a snapper. I do not like to use ball movement from a coach kneeling down.
I want our guys to see a snapper\u2019s movement and get used to picking up slight movements before a snap is made. We will use every snapper we have in our program so the rushers do not get focused on the actions of just one snapper. At the begin- ning of this phase, we will place a cone ten yards from the ball representing the block point. We will get off on the snap, concen- trating on our stance and coming off low and hard, and accelerating to the block point. No punting is used at this point.
After getting quality reps, concentrating mainly on our quickness off of the snap, we will place the punter into the reps. We will not use a punt protection team, only the snapper and punter. We go one rusher at a time, getting off on the ball and running to the block point for the block. This is a rapid- fire drill. We will use several punters and snappers. My thinking on not using other punt protection personnel is to create con- fidence on the block. This really helps the players get a great feel of blocking the punt.
taught, your personnel should be close to being set. You should know who has the great get off, the understanding of the block point, taking the ball off of the foot and see- ing the ball into the hands. We take our six most successful players from the first three phases and designate them as our rushers.
Likewise, we take the next six best as the second team and then the next three as a third team. Players that are not as good rush- ing as the first six are then used as the cover men and fake stoppers. The lone remaining man on this team will be our returner. We always use quality meeting time during sum- mer camp to install this phase. We are now implementing our block scheme.
Our installation will take place in our meetings so we use as much grass time as possible to get quality reps. For the six rushers, we use a numbering system of one to six. Each rusher will be given a num- ber. The numbering system is used because of the changing rush schemes from week to week. Each week they will have a gap to attack en route to the block point. Although No. 1 may change a gap
from game one to game two and so on, his rule is simple, win that gap and get to the block point.
The cover men and fake stoppers are numbered seven to 10. As is the case with the numbers one to six, they may change their alignment or depth from game to game, but their assignment will always be the same. All of the teaching techniques for the first three phases now are implemented with our attack scheme. A new phase of teaching will apply to numbers one through six should they penetrate the protectors and are now being picked up by the searchlight.
We designate the searchlight as the last player before the punter. Depending upon the alignment scheme, the men aligning farthest to the left and the right will always veer off to the left or right respectively if the searchlight is blocking them (Diagram 1 and 2).
We do this to try and draw the search- light away from the punter. The four rushers aligning inside of the two outside rushers will, upon being blocked by the searchlight, stop their charge and grab the searchlight (Diagram 3). We do not want to push the searchlight back to the punter. We want the searchlight to concentrate on the one guy
he decides to block. By using the veer off technique and the grab technique, we insure that the searchlight only blocks one rusher.
We are trying to open lanes to the block point. The worst thing that an outside rush- er can do is cross the face of the search- light and possibly close a lane to the block point by another rusher. Similarly, if an inside rusher tries to swim the searchlight, he may be bumped into an outside rusher, thus closing his lane to the block point. Accept that you are being blocked by the searchlight and be a team player. In prac- tice, anytime we block a kick we go by our rules, \u201cscoop and score\u201d if it is behind the line of scrimmage or \u201cget away\u201d if it cross- es the line of scrimmage. This will be our first live action versus the scout team.
earlier, we always use the title punt rush and return. If we do not get the block, the play is not over! As with the previous phase, a meeting to install before you go to the practice field will allow plenty of time for quality reps on the grass. Each man (1-10) has an assignment if the punt is not blocked.
We normally set up a wall return when we try to block a kick. Nos. 9 and 10 will form a mini-wall in front of the returner to allow him to get to the wall. They will always try to push any coverage man in the opposite direction of the wall. There is no predetermined place for the wall to be set. Some like to set the wall on the hash or the numbers, but we conversely like to take the wall to the returner as quickly as possible.
The sooner he makes it to the wall, the better the chance we have for a big return. We do not like to put the returner on an island for a long period of time. By using this philosophy, we very rarely lose any ground in getting to the wall. Nos. 7 and 8 will be the first to the wall. No. 8 will be the foundation of our wall.
He sets the wall by running to the return- e r. His aiming point is one yard in front of the r e t u r n e r. He will not slow down until after the returner passes him. He picks off any cover- age man trailing the returner to the wall. No. 7 will have approximately a five-yard sepa- ration from No. 8. After Nos. 1 through 6 rush the block point, they will then peel to the wall. The first to get out will find No. 7 and have a five-yard separation, and so on for each player getting out. You can never get an exact alignment for the wall.
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