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.
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).
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.
R1One yard inside the goal post.
R2On the hash.
R3Split the hash & numbers.
R4Top of the numbers.
R5Four yards from sideline.
R1Split the goal posts.
R2Split the hash & goal post.
R3Three yards outside the hash.
R4Two yards inside the numbers.
R5Four yards from the sideline.
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.
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:
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.
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.
\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.
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.
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).
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).
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