Kicking Game: A Look Behind the Scenes of Organization and Preparation

t is truly an honor to be writing for the AFCA Summer Manual. Realizing that not all levels of college football are equal in terms of number of coaches on staff and those available to work with the special teams, I would like to offer some thoughts on philosophy and organization. This is by no means the way to go about it, but it should provide some good information and stimulate thoughts. Philosophy I believe that each kicking unit/punt team, punt return/block team/kickoff cover team/kickoff return team must be built on a philosophy for success based upon the talent you have available. T day, for example, o most people would like to utilize a form of spread punt for better coverage, yet without a center who can also help in protection, it may increase the risk of a blocked punt. Or, you might like to be a pressure punt block team. Do you have the great speed off the edge, the quick, wiggle types to avoid and get a great angle to the block point, or should you “major” in being a good return team? You decide that you like the idea of directional kickoffs and that type of coverage. Can your kicker perform equally well off of either hash or are you restricted to one side? What do you do in the event of a strong crosswind? You like the idea of crossblocks and kick-out type blocks on kickoff return, but the speed and agility of your personnel at those positions does not match up with the speed of the opponents cover units. Now what? Alot of thought goes into philosophy, matching up a scheme with your talent, having a back-up plan, and then finding the most time-efficient means of teaching the techniques and getting quality repetitions. Just like offense and defense, Xs and Os on the board all make sense for a lot of good reasons. But you must put your players in a position to be successful in the kicking game, as well. That happens by asking them to do what they are capable of doing and doing it very well. We all know that special teams get just a fraction of the fundamental, technical and group teaching that offense and defense gets, but on Saturday, they have to shine just as brightly. Match your talent to your scheme, be sound, and be effective and efficient with your time in the kicking game. Coaching Organization All special teams are not created equal

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Nick Quartaro Assistant Head Coach Iowa State University Ames, Iowa

when it comes to the talent pool you have available, the amount of meeting time and practice time. Therefore, there must be a priority in terms of how much each unit receives. One unit that has always received priority with regard to personnel and time is the punt protection unit. The old adage is that the greatest change in momentum in a football game is a blocked punt. With this as motivation, and considering what a great chunk of field position is at stake when it is punted and covered well, the punt team demands a top priority to master the protection and coverage techniques. The punt team can be broken down into position groupings for coaching assignments such as right side, left side and sprinters (spread set). Ideally, someone should be assigned to the center, punter and time/chart. The punt return/block (PR/BLK) team can be divided into four groups; right side, left side, cover men on the sprinters and returners. The kickoff team (KO) can use three to four men, depending on availability and split the coverage into three or four man groups. Ideally, you would like to have someone coach the outside three to one side, someone with the outside three to the other side, then one or two coaches working with the inside four and kicker. The kickoff return team (KOR) should have three to four men coaching the position groups. Some teams like to use one coach for the front five, others employ two coaches for the five spots. Then, working further into the kick return alignment, there is one or two coaches for the next level(s) of blockers and one for the deep men. The PAT/field goal team traditionally has the offensive coaches working with their own position, with the exception of someone who does individual specialty work with the holder and kicker. It is also important to have someone assigned to time/chart every kick in live practice segments. Each defensive coach usually handles his own position on field goal block. Use of Practice Time I have found that there is a great need for teaching and coaching fundamentals and techniques prior to the actual practice so that once you get into your kicking periods, you can jump in and go at a quicker tempo. We have employed a “special teams emphasis” during the pre-practice time. We

• AFCA Summer Manual — 2000 •

designate a unit each day to get seven to eight minutes of fundamental and technique work. Punt protection usually gets work on Monday so that they can be introduced to the new opponents looks. KOR and PR/BLK will have their emphasis pre-practice on Tuesday or Wednesday. This is a great time to break things down to their most fundamental technique to teach and work them just like offense and defense does in their individual periods. KO has not received this pre-practice teaching period except during pre-season, when it is initially installed. We usually work two units per each kicking period. That period has moved around from being very early in practice, to later in practice, but never at the end. We do not want our special teams players to think that what they are doing is extra work. We usually go about seven and a half to eight minutes per unit. An example would be punt and KOR on Monday, PR/Block and KO on Tuesday, and punt and KOR again on Wednesday. We have adjusted at times during the year when PR/Block needed a little more work due to adjustments and they went in one of the slots occupied by KOR, or we built in a special period for them. This may not seem like a lot of time, but with great organization of the scout teams, all coaches hustling their players into the new kicking period, and a quick-tempo overall, a lot of work can be produced. Thursdays are a complete review for all units that runs about five and six minutes per segment. Special situations are highlighted such as KOR hands team, defensive punt safe return, etc. Friday’s practice is a good time to simply run through substitution, getting units on and off the field. It is important to go from offensive and defensive units to the respective kicking units as well as communicating and substituting goal line defense to base defense for field goal blocks and who is in and who is out on punt safe, etc. A good way to get your kicker good, quality work each day is to get field goal protection and rush work immediately after the team stretch. We hustle to get lined up with a total of four to six kicks. For safety concerns, we go “thud” tempo on the first kick, then “full-go” on the next kick. We go with two kicks from two or three spots. Sometimes it is all one versus one, other times we go four total kicks with ones, and then rotate twos in for two kicks. We also like to conclude our two-minute drills of good versus good with a FG to win the

Weekly Kicking Organization Schedule
Day Sunday Film Work Coaches grade kicking game. Watch all of kicking tape together. Critique practice tape at night. Meeting Practice

Monday

Watch and critique kicking tape with entire team. Recognize Player of the Week. Give new opponent scouting report.

Punt KOR

Tuesday

Critique practice tape at night. Critique practice tage at night.

FG/BLK PR/BLK Kickoff FG/BLK Punt KOR or PR/BLK Review practice tape with Punt, PR/BLK, KO and KOR teams. Review all units and Special Situations.

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

30 minute study and review Depth of opponents’ schemes and Chart and personnel. Substitution Review.

game. By the end of the week, these all add up to a good number of live kicks for our operation, protection, rush and defense versus fakes, and it is done in a matter of about three minutes. Use of Meeting Time Emphasis on the importance of special teams performance is done by watching the previous game’s special teams tape with the entire team at the first team meeting following the Saturday game. That way the head coach, all staff members and all players can see exactly what is going on and the players understand that their performance is truly important to everyone watching that tape in the team meeting room. We issue the new opponent’s kicking game scout report on Monday at the team meeting so that any adjustments are done right away and players and coaches alike can become very familiar with what needs to be done at practice for the new week. The kicking periods are filmed each day and evaluated that night by the coaches who handle those units. On Thursday, we have a short meeting for practice tape critique or review for the four units (P, PR, KO, KOR). Depending on the kickoff time for Saturday’s game, we will either have our final 30-minute special teams film session

reviewing the opponent on Friday night for a normal kickoff, or Saturday morning if it is a night game. Special teams are graded on Sunday. A point system has been devised so players are given not just a plus or minus, but points for doing something extra, like blocked kick, recovered turnover, caused fumble, tremendous effort or tempo setting plays, key kick or punt, etc. The special teams player of the week, who is recognized at the team meeting on Monday, and the special teams player of the year are based upon these weekly point totals. The last thing the entire staff does on Sunday, before moving totally on to the new opponent, is to watch the special teams tape as a staff. Even if someone is not directly involved with all units, it is valuable for each coach to see players he may have at his position perform on special teams so he can see that player’s effort, attitude and performance. There are certainly a lot of ways to prepare your special teams for a winning performance on Saturday. Hopefully, you may have picked up a little something in this article that may contribute to your team’s success. A sincere thank you to the AFCA for this great opportunity to share some thoughts with you.

• AFCA Summer Manual — 2000 •

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