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kickoff coverage

kickoff coverage

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Published by Michael Schearer

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Published by: Michael Schearer on Nov 16, 2008
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05/14/2013

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While it is certainly true that every play is

important during a football game, a kickoff is, by nature, one of the most impor- tant. Every offensive coach agonizes over finding ways to get the ball to his best ath- lete in the open field. The kickoff provides a built-in opportunity to do just that, so it is imperative that the kicking team do every- thing possible to limit the opportunity for a big play that can result in a touchdown or great field position for the offense.

It seems that every year, more and more teams are \u201csquib\u201d kicking or \u201cpooch\u201d kick- ing the ball to eliminate big returns. They are willing to sacrifice field position in order to avoid the potential for the big play. That certainly is a sound concept, however, the deep kickoff gives the kicking team a chance to pin the opponent deep in their own territory, something that is generally not possible on squibs and pooch kicks. For the purposes of this article I will focus on covering balls kicked deep.

Basic Kickoff Coverage System

We number our coverage players from the inside out on each side of the kicker from one to five respectively (Diagram 1).

Our kickoff coverage is based on a \u201ctwo funnel system.\u201d After the ball is caught by the returner, we attempt to form a first fun- nel with two force players (usually L4 and R4) acting as the \u201couter edges of the fun- nel\u201d and six lane players acting as the \u201cpoints of the funnel.\u201d Ideally, the force players will restrict the running lane to about five yards width and as many lane players as possible will fill the five yard lane (Diagram 2).

The safeties (usually L5 and R5) and the kicker will form the second funnel five yards behind the first funnel, in case the returner breaks through. Ideally, the safeties will con- strict the running lane for the second funnel to about two yards and the kicker will fill the two-yard lane (Diagram 2).

Alignment and Landmarks
On each kickoff, coverage players are

assigned landmarks based on where we are trying to kick the ball. Ideally, these landmarks will create relatively even spac- ing between coverage players (approxi- mately five-yard increments). Prior to the kick, players should align five to eight yards off the free kick line, on their landmark and in a two-point stance facing in at a 45- degree angle to the kicker.

Landmarks are as follows:
Middle Kick
L5
Four yards from sideline.
L4
Top of the numbers.
L3
Split the hash & numbers.
L2
On the hash.
L1
One yard inside the goal post.

R1One yard inside the goal post.
R2On the hash.
R3Split the hash & numbers.
R4Top of the numbers.
R5Four yards from sideline.

Kick Left
L5
Two yards from sideline.
L4
Bottom of the numbers.
L3
Three yards inside the numbers.
L2
Three yards outside the hash.
L1
Split the hash & goal post.

R1Split the goal posts.
R2Split the hash & goal post.
R3Three yards outside the hash.
R4Two yards inside the numbers.
R5Four yards from the sideline.

Kick Right
L5
Four yards from the sideline.
L4
Two yards inside the numbers.
L3
Three yards outside the hash.
L2
Split the hash & goal post.
L1
Split the goal post.
R1Split the hash & goal post.
R2Three yards outside the hash.
K
Ki
ic
ck
ko
of
ff
f
C
Co
ov
ve
er
ra
ag
ge
e
Diagr am 1: Number ing Player s
Diagr am 2: Two Funnel System

R3Three yards inside the numbers.
R4Bottom of the numbers.
R5Two yards from sideline.

It is important that all coverage play- ers understand that the direction called in the huddle is only where we are attempting to kick the ball. Since the kicker does not always kick the ball where he is aiming, all players must react to where the ball is actually kicked as they run down the field.

Covering a Kick

Although coverage assignments for the kickoff team can be switched at times in order to give the return team diff e r e n t looks, in general L5 and R5 are safeties, L4 and R4 are force players and L1, L2, L3, R1, R2 and R3 are lane players.

The coaching of kickoff coverage players can be broken down into three areas: attack- ing the free kick line; responsibilities before the ball is caught; and responsibilities after the ball is caught. The following are the coaching points we use for coverage players in each phase of kickoff coverage:

Attacking the Free Kick Line (FKL)

Learn the nuances and steps of the kicker in order to ensure that you arrive at the free kick line as close as possible to the same time the ball is kicked. While we would like you to hit the free kick line at full speed and at the same time as the kicker, being at full speed is more important. I would rather have you at full speed and a step short of the free kick line than at the free kick line but having to \u201cstutter step\u201d to avoid being offside when the ball is kicked. Above all, do not be offside.

Responsibilities Before
the Ball is Caught

From the time the ball is kicked until it is caught by the returner, you should run full speed on your landmark attempting to get inside the opponent\u2019s 40-yard line before the ball is caught. Be sure to see the move- ment of the returners in order to determine the path of the ball and to know when it is caught. Never look up for the flight of the ball.

If a blocker comes at you prior to the ball being caught, then avoid the block (to the easiest side) and return to your landmark as soon as possible.

When the ball is kicked, all lane players
should key the five front-line blockers of the
return team. Be ready for specific blocks
based on their movement.

\u2022 If a front-five player attacks you, then you should avoid him and then get back on your landmark.

\u2022 If the front five players drop, then find the deep people to determine the flight of the ball and expect a wedge return. If the wedge develops, then be ready to squarely take on the blockers.

\u2022 If you see a front five blocker go across to the opposite side, then expect a cross blocking scheme.

Responsibilities after the Ball is Caught
1. Force Players:As a force player, you

are the outer edge of the first funnel. Your job is to constrict the running lane allowing the lane players to make the tackle. After the ball is caught, squeeze to the ball and remain on the level of the returner after reaching ball depth. As the returner moves up-field, you must work to stay on the same level as the ball. This will prevent the returner from breaking outside your edge of the funnel while also preventing him from slipping between you and the lane players (Diagram 3). Never take an uncontrolled shot at the returner, since the ball must be kept inside the funnel at all costs.

2. Safeties:The safeties\u2019 responsibili-

ties are similar to those of the force players but are performed in the \u201csecond funnel.\u201d Once the ball is caught, close in to the ball, \u201cfolding under the force\u201d and establishing \u201chold position\u201d (five yards behind and two- yards outside the force player).

From hold position, if the returner bounces outside the force player, then come up and make the tackle (Diagram 4); if he breaks through the first funnel, then close in as the outside edge of the second funnel and make the tackle (Diagram 5).

3. Lane Players: Once the ball is

caught, you are what we call \u201cleverage on the ball,\u201d i.e. you should aim for the near shoulder of the returner. As the returner changes his path, you should adjust so that

you are always aiming at his near shoulder. Never take a \u201ccut-off angle\u201d by aiming for where you think the returner is headed. Cut off angles just open cutback lanes for the returner.

If a blocker comes at you and the return- er is not threatening your lane, then avoid the block to the ball side. Since each play- er whose lane is not being threatened will avoid a block to the ball side, spacing between lane players will be maintained (Diagram 6).

Diagram 3: Force Players Work With
the Ball
Diagr am 4: Ball Bounces Outside the
For ce Player
Diagram 5: Ball Breaks Through the
First Funnel
Diagram 6: Avoid to the Ball

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