Illinois\u2019 coaching staff and players, espe- cially the Ranger Unit, I want to thank the AFCA for the opportunity to share our punt block/return thoughts with you.
I have been very fortunate to have been around, and coached with, many outstand- ing football coaches and have received numerous ideas and teaching points that have proved to be invaluable. Many thanks to all of them. A special thanks to Joe Novak, our head coach, and to the coach- es that assist me with our Ranger Unit \u2013 Scott Shafer, Pat Narduzzi, Sid McNairy, Greg Bower, and Kurt Johansen.
Our \u201cRanger Unit\u201d is so named because we want our punt block/return team to model itself after of the \u201cesprit de corps\u201d that the U.S. Army Rangers represent and how they are always willing to do their part for the good of the cause. To be successful in any arena you have to have the right kind of attitude and the members of our Ranger Unit have bought into this \u201cRanger\u201d attitude and take a great deal of pride in being called \u201cRangers.\u201d We were very for- tunate in the fact that we had outstanding players on this team that accomplished a great deal during the 2000 season. We blocked four punts, finished first in the Mid- American Conference and sixth in the country in punt return average (16.2 yds./return), and had a special young man, Justin McCareins, who finished first in the MAC and third in the country in punt return average (19.1 yds./return). The statistic that I feel is just as important as any with this team is the opponent\u2019s net punt aver- age. Our opponents netted only 25.97 yds./punt versus our Ranger Unit this past fall which put our excellent offense in good field position many times throughout the year.
As with most staffs, we feel that the most important play in football is the punt. Because of this philosophy the punt block/return team must be a potent weapon if we are to attack an opponent\u2019s most important play. If we are to possess an \u201cattack mentality\u201d we must attempt to put as much pressure on the punt team as pos- sible in order to accomplish our number one goal \u2013 Block or force a bad kick on every opportunity. We are mainly a block team but because of the pressure we can put on a punt protection unit, we have the opportunity for some big returns. We need
to have confidence, give second effort and play intelligent, mistake-free football in order to win the field position battle. Our attitude is that our Ranger Unit can, and will, affect the outcome of every game. If we can win the field position battle we will be doing our part for the good of the cause, which will help Northern Illinois win the game. Some coaches may feel, because of time constraints, that a punt rush team can only be one-dimensional \u2013 that is, it can either be a punt block team or a punt return team, but not both. We feel, however, that our Ranger Unit can be a threat as a block team as well as have the ability to set up a successful return. Being a multi-dimension- al punt block/return team takes some extra time. We are fortunate to have a head coach that supports our \u201cattack mentality\u201d philosophy and gives us the time to proper- ly study an opponent, effectively install the blocks and returns on the practice field each week, and have the meeting time necessary to correct mistakes and make coaching points that are necessary to allow us to implement a gameplan and give it a chance to be successful. I am convinced that any special teams unit must have the support of the head coach and the rest of the staff if it is truly going to be \u201cspecial.\u201d
As with any aspect of the game of foot- ball you have to start with some base rules. We start the members of this unit out in a base alignment and then make changes based on the block or return called from here. Here is our base alignment:
Because our corners play so much press coverage in our base defense, it was a natural for them to continue to do so with our punt rush team. Their base rule is that they have the No. 1 receiver on their side of the ball and will travel with them, if both gunners are on the same side. No. 2 and No. 9 are at least a yard outside the slot to their side, No. 3 and No. 8 are head up to slightly outside the slot, No. 4 and No. 7 are head up to slightly outside the tackle, and No. 5 and No. 6 are head up to slightly out- side the guard. We like to stretch an oppo-
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