Changing the Tempo of the Game: Ferrum College Punt Return

Timothy Norling Defensive Line Coach Ferrum College Ferrum, Va.

Chadd Braine Linebackers Coach

e feel honored to represent Ferrum College and Head Coach Dave Davis, David Harper (offensive coordinator), Bob Brown (quarterbacks), Horace Green (runningbacks), Cleve Adams (defensive backfield), and Brian Zyglocke (wide receivers). Special teams are as important as any other unit on the field. Many teams say this but we really believe it. We feel we can make a difference and change the tempo of the game. The blocked punt or long return can change the tempo and the momentum of the game in a huge way. Often teams are even defensively and offensively so the special teams will be the key to victory. We look at special teams this way. We have specific special team goals for each aspect of the special teams. Many teams practice special teams at the beginning of the practice or at the end of practice. We practice special teams in the middle of the practice with everyone on the team involved. This lets everybody know how important the practice time is. We do not always follow the same schedule for special team practice either. As with offense and defense we will work with weak spots or spots where we believe we can exploit another team’s weakness. This takes time, and since we do not have a specific special teams coordinator, we all must work together as a staff. The offensive staff is in charge of kick-off return, PAT/FG and punt teams. The defensive staff is in charge of punt return, kick-off return and field-goal block. Since the special teams are split in this way the whole coaching staff plays an important part in the special teams aspect of the game. Every day in the staff meeting we talk about where we need work. We will divide time up for the special teams accordingly. We will use some starters on our special teams so we do not view this as a time to rest players. The starters on our offense and defense involved on the various units will rest on offense or defense but not on their assigned special teams units. We will play our best athletes on the special teams. For instance our All-American defensive end Tone’ Dancy was on the punt and punt return. He was a very good example of how important the special teams units are to the success of our team. The punt return team is made of mostly defensive players in case the offensive team decides to go for the first down unexpectedly. The punt return team has been our strong point in the past few years. This year

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was not an exception. We had the fifth leading punt returner in the nation, Tim Carter. This was after an injury to our starting punt returner. The punt returners have always been skilled athletes at Ferrum but the whole unit deserves credit for all of the effort given on the field. As mentioned earlier in the article we have five goals as a special teams unit. The five goals are: 1. Gain 10 yards on a punt return. 2. Field all catchable balls. 3. No penalties. 4. Stop all fakes. 5. Pressure the punter both physically and mentally. These goals give us a way to evaluate the punt return unit. The goals are evaluated for each individual punt. We will post the results each week just as the offense and the defense does with their goals. With the evaluation of the special teams the players and coaches can see how the team is doing and we are able to evaluate ways to improve the team. Each of the goals serves the return unit in a different way. If you complete all of the goals on a particular punt the result will be a positive result. We will break down film as to be able to understand tendencies of the opponent. We will look at the punter’s average, steps, the snap, and the characteristics of the coverage unit. We want to be able to attack the defense just as an offense attacks a defense. We will run various returns or blocks depending on the strength and weakness of the team’s punting unit. When these aspects of the punt team are studied, the return unit can gain a major advantage. Every week will be different. We will try to determine blocking schemes of a punt team in order to pressure the punter the best way possible. This helps us because many teams will look at our previous game film and prepare for that specific block. We will execute a different type of block or return against their team because of the characteristics of their unit. We will run an alley return, middle return with various blocks, and a safe punt. We will try to make every return including the block look like a block. This is a way where we will pressure the punter both mentally and physically. The punter will never know when we are going to return the punt or try to block it. Middle Return We had a lot of success last year with the middle return. With the middle return

• AFCA Summer Manual — 2001 •

Tim Carter returned two punts for touchdowns in one game. As mentioned before we will line up with a 10-man front with everyone in a head up alignment. The only players who will not be in a heads alignment are the ones who will pinch the center. We will do this with all of our returns or blocks. The only difference is the location of our safeties. The location of the safeties could change on every return.

this situation because we will have players with as much speed and hopefully more desire to make the blocks. The returner will hopefully have a nice lane to run through the center of the field.

Diagram 2

Diagram 1

The middle return will be man blocking for everyone except the number ones and the safeties (fours). The ones will block who number four was lined up over and the safeties will watch for fakes and block the center and any players who were not blocked. The big key to this return is not letting the players on the punt team release inside on the punt. Everyone except the safeties will make a push as if they are trying to block the punt. Once the push up field is over, we will give them an outside release and follow them down field. The key is not blocking the player too early. They need to wait until they are in good position and down the field to set the blocks. We hope to have an advantage in

Wall Right/Wall Left This is one of the more common returns in the country, but if executed the return is one of the most successful returns as well. The return requires a lot of effort from your players in order to be executed. The return can also be considered a block since one of the sides is always coming for the block. Since there will be pressure on the punter he will have to get the ball off on time and this could cause a problem in itself. We did have one block this year off of this return.

Diagram 3

As drawn in the diagram, one side of the return will be a man-blocking scheme while the other side will attempt to block the kick and form a wall. The difference between the man blocking side compared to the middle return is the blockers will try to give an inside release to the man they are blocking. This will enable them to be in the best position to keep the defender out of the wall. Number one will set up the wall and everyone will follow his lead. The rest of the blockers will set up the wall three to four yards apart. The important player is number five who is responsible to make sure the ball is punted and there are not any fakes. This return is the hardest return to execute, not only because of the blocks, but the ball must be punted at the right spot and depth. If the punt is short or far away from the wall the returner must adjust the return and make a “may-day” call to go on his own. If the returner makes the “mayday” call the blockers may be able to adjust and help him a little bit. Without the communication the returner may not have any support. We have been lucky to have success with our special teams and great effort from our players. With this in mind, we hope to continue the tradition of strong special teams at Ferrum College. We hope this article can help somebody and we appreciate the opportunity to share our thoughts with members of the American Football Coaches Association.

Make a Difference: Insist on Secure Assistant Coaches’ Contracts When Moving to a New Position
AFCA members moving into a new position as a head coach can make a difference when it comes to improving the football coaching profession. Coaches who are in the process of interviewing for a head coaching position should make it a point to ask that assistant coaches’ contracts run from July to July or the equivalent (such as January to January plus six months) when negotiating with an institution’s representatives. Only those within the profession can put an end to poor contracts. It’s up to you.

• AFCA Summer Manual — 2001 •

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