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Bob Ligashesky Tight Ends/Special Teams Coordinator University of Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, Pa.
t is a privilege and an honor to contribute to the 2001 AFCA Summer Manual. I have learned that coaching is a constant learning process and a lot of what we teach we have learned, begged and borrowed from other coaches. In writing this article it is a way to thank all those coaches who have gone out of their way to take the time to provide information, answer questions and teach me the information that I hope can help you in coaching your special teams. Also, I feel very fortunate to be coaching at the University of Pittsburgh. Our head coach, Walt Harris, believes strongly in the kicking game and provides the time and facilities to be successful. He attends our meetings and practice periods which I think sends a great message of their importance to our players and coaching staff for their dedication and efforts to helping our special teams make a positive contribution to winning. About the title: when I first started coaching the special teams I had an opportunity to listen to Dick Vermeil, the first special teams coach in the NFL. He defined special teams as another opportunity to make a positive contribution to winning. That always stuck with me and I have carried that philosophy with me. He believed in the attitude that if your team had the belief that you could help win 1-2 games a year just based on your contributions in the kicking game you had it rolling. And that when two teams being equal would play, special teams would make the difference. So we sell to our players that their role or contribution on the special teams is as important as their role or contribution on offense and defense. During our freshman practice, besides taking a pre-practice specialists period for all kickers, punters, snappers, holders and returners, we also take one period a practice to evaluate kicking game techniques. To emphasize the importance of the kicking game when our new comers come on campus for their first practices we take one period a practice to introduce techniques and evaluate our newcomers in special teams situations. Most teams put the new recruits on offense and defense for one practice but we have found that by putting our new recruits in these drills it has improved our evaluations of them. The first practice we teach our punt techniques. We teach all our newcomers how to vertical set. We start them on the sideline so that they learn how to work straight back. We start with the stance. We want our feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Our inside
foot is up. We want all our weight on our front foot. We tell our players to curl their toes in their shoes to emphasize them pushing off their inside foot. We stagger our outside foot anywhere between six and 18 inches. We bend at our ankles, knees and waist so that our chest is as close to our thigh as possible allowing us to get as deep off the line of scrimmage as possible with our helmets still breaking the belt line of the center. We place our hands on our knees. They key the ball for movement. We tell them to keep one eye on the man and one eye on the ball. We are aligned so that we are facing the sidelines with our inside foot on the yard line. We are spaced five yards apart and usually have six lines.
On movement, push off your inside foot and kick with your outside foot. We kick slide two steps. We want to work straight back keeping their inside foot on the yard line. They will want to pop up at first, so we emphasize pressing their chest on their thigh. Keeping the shoulders square, and maintaining a base. Working from a low plane to a high plane. We punch against air with our hands. Again working low to high. Elbows in, thumbs out we strike with the butt of our hands. Once you engage the rusher, widen him away from the block spot and release to your landmark. If we have time we will align in our punt formation and do a half line vertical set and release vs. air to our landmarks. Our second drill relates to our punt return and field goal block phase. It is a course block drill using cones. The purpose of the drill is to evaluate a player’s stance, get-off, course, and ability to block kicks. We will align two drills, a left side and a right side. The drill starts with ball movement. There is a front row of cones four yards apart. Behind the front cone is another cone three yards deep. There is a punter or coach nine to nine-andhalf yards from the ball (Diagram 2). We are coaching the player to get into a sprinters stance. We tell our players hand behind the ball, head behind the hand to get as much of the ball as possible without being
• AFCA Summer Manual — 2001 •
Once the ball is blocked behind the line of scrimmage scoop and score with the ball. Diagram 5 On the throw. take on and get off a blocker and make a tackle. 2 going to blocker No. 2 wants to come straight out and try to base block the cover man. It slows you down. Coaching points are to not slow down to make your move. 1. the coverage will squeeze and cup the ball. a rip and a quick swim. The middle cover man will try to maintain a head up position. The blocker is facing the sideline so he will start his movement on the movement of the rusher. Once they approach the second cone we are working to get the inside foot pointed to the block spot bending the knee. We emphasize to them to take the ball off the kicker’s foot. If he can beat the blocker to the hash with speed that is ideal. We add to the drill by adding a blocker.Diagram 2 Our next drill is to evaluate kickoff coverage ability. 2 locked out. dipping the inside shoulder and ripping the inside arm. This forces the rusher to rip and dip his inside arm and shoulder past the blocker or he will be widened. Everyone moves up one spot in the drill. blocker No. After you avoid the block get back on your line and stack the blocker as fast as you can. 2 positions. The cover man wants to shed the blocker and make an angle tackle and drive the returner out of the 10 yard lane. Blocker No. In coverage the outside cover man on run to will try to keep the ball closed inside and in front. We start the drill with a returner 30 yards down field. If the blocker is able to set up before he arrives. The last drill we do is a 3-on-1 leverage drill. 1 going to the end of the cover line. one guy in the middle of the field. The drill starts on the whistle. We will rotate by cover man going to returner. We start the drill from the sideline and work across the field in a 10 yard lane. You can add the snap later. 2. We emphasize the rip because it keeps you lower. and blocker No. I hope these drills can help you evaluate and improve your players’ techniques and abilities in the kicking game. Diagram 4 offsides. The two outside guys align between the numbers and the hash. 1. Again this drill gives us a chance to evaluate a player’s ability to cover a kickoff. The returner gets a one way cut to the right or left staying in the 10 yard lane. We believe these drills can emphasize our belief in teaching that through the kicking game we can positively contribute to helping the team win games. They will use a defensive run — keeping their shoulders square and turning their hips to run laterally. If it is blocked across the line of scrimmage it is a poison call and get away from it. We will go one line at a time with both drills going at the same time. Give one head or foot fake. We want to engage blocker No. The outside defender away will stay in a cutback position. After making your fake stay as tight to the blocker to avoid getting too far out of your lane. Do not run with your arms out. 1 starts on the numbers and sprints back to the hash and sets up to try to block the cover man. Diagram 6 It has been an honor and a privilege to contribute to this manual. We do the drill in a 10 yard lane so that the cover man runs down a line with five yard opening on both sides. Waiting for the rusher to approach to let him block the ball. place your palms under the ball and scoop it up or forward. Once the returner catches the ball he wants to run laterally to try to out-leverage the coverage. The coverage will align in three lines. We have a player or coach take a one step kick and punt the ball. We will shuffle a player from the front cone to the back cone trying to push or widen the rusher. Alot of players will shuffle their feet and get high. Blocker No. 2 and press him into the hole as much as possible to decrease the angle for the returner. Throw the ball to the returner to insure a good kick. Bend your knees. All three will squeeze and defend the returner laterally to both the right and left then cup the ball in the middle and break down in front to finish the drill. We do not leave our feet. A lot of times more than one move slows you down. On ball movement we want to see the player get upfield as fast and as low as possible to the second cone. We teach two avoid techniques. We emphasize this technique to defend against the big block on a wall return. As they approach the block spot we want to see them run full speed to the block spot seeing the ball come off the kicker’s foot. we use an avoid technique. Diagram 3 This drill allows us to evaluate a player’s ability to avoid an open field block. returner going to blocker No. 1 and No. We evaluate a player’s ability in space to keep the ball inside and in front of him. The kickoff cover man tries to beat blocker No. Do not slap at the ball it also slows you down and decrease your chances to block the ball. When the cover man runs laterally on the returner. blocker No. Most kids will run with their arms out or slap at the ball. • AFCA Summer Manual — 2001 • . 2 does not start until the cover man gets clear of blocker No. Try to attack the blocker full speed and give him one move to get him to transfer his weight. We have coached him to take the ball off the kicker’s foot at the last possible moment with your thumbs together and your hands below your eyes. At the start. The first thing we emphasize in avoiding the block is to not slow down to make your move. but we also can evaluate a player’s ability to block on kickoff return by being at the blocker No. See Diagram 3. The returner does not want to leave until the cover man has blocker No. 1 to the hash.
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