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The following is based on a clinic presentation I did last year at the Vancouver Island Mega Clinic in Nanaimo. I would like to thank the host of this clinic, and my mentor, Rob Stevenson for all the support he has given me and the doors he has helped me open along my path. Keep finding the way coach! Special teams is a topic in coaching football that is often given much lip service but too often not enough true service. I have spent a lot of time, energy, and money to improve my knowledge of the game of football, and over and over again I have read articles that say the same thing. Special teams is a third of the game. It’s the first play you set the tone with every game. It can win or lose you a game. It offers the most exchange of yardage on any one play. Yet most coaches do not truly have a sound philosophy of special teams. By this I mean they do not put enough into understanding and implementing great special teams; X’s and O’s, drills, teaching, along with player utilization and development. The following are some suggestions and guidelines to help you consider whether you are putting enough emphasis on your special teams play. If it reinforces what you already do and you pick up just one thing then it has been worthwhile.
First off, what is your coaching philosophy regarding special teams? What is your TIME COMMITMENT to special teams. Offense is fun. Defense and Special Teams win Championships. During a game your special teams is on the field 20% of the time on average. Therefore you should practice special teams 20% of your practice For a 2 hour practice this equals around 24 minutes each practice. If you neglect your special teams you WILL lose a game because of it. If you emphasis your special teams and your players take pride in it you WILL win a game because of it. Remember the weather, B.C. Rain, Ontario cold, and so on.. Will it be a problem for you or will you take advantage of it? What is your special teams ATTITUDE? We would hang our hat on something fun with the kids. All special teams players have to be “AFC” = Absolutely Fricking Crazy. It takes a special type of player with a special mentality to play on special teams. There is a very consistent exchange of large “hidden” yardage on special teams and the opportunity for big plays (for or against you). You need your best special teams players on the field. This may very well be mainly your starters. So, what PERSONNEL do you use for your special teams?
Who do you want on your special teams? Most of them should be your better athletes (LB’s, RB’s, DB’s, TE’s, WR’s). Key aspects of great special teams players are the ability to carry out assignments, make good decisions, and make plays. What do you do with players and coaches not involved on that special team you are practicing at the time? Linemen are not on most special teams (except for FG/XP) You can and should use this time for them to work on technique / sled with their line coaches. Don’t have your non-special teams players just standing around. QB’s are usually not on special teams (use this time to drill them, reads etc…)
How do you want COACHES INVOLVEMENT in special teams? Who runs your special teams? Ie) Head Coach with help Ie) Assistant coaches have one each Ie) What do your coaches do who are not involved? And,always remember, for you and your staff, KISS = Keep it Simple and Sound.
What are your GOALS FOR SPECIAL TEAMS? Goals should be Specific, measurable, attainable GENERAL (each game) -No blocked kicks -Play penalty free (know the rules) -Score or set up a TD -Block a kick -No pressure on our punter -100 % on PAT’s STATISTICAL (tough one, as depends yearly on your kicker) -Net avg 30 yds punt (High School) -Avg 10 yds Punt Return -Avg 4 yds on Opponent Punt Return -Pin opponents inside their 25 yd line of Kickoff (may depend on your kicker) Part 2) Special teams DRILLS and BASICS you can / should do… KICKOFF DRILLS 1) Take the line (no offsides ever)
Line team up. Use a whistle to alert the kickoff team they can proceed. It always amazes me but every year I see a team so excited they kickoff before the refs have blown it in. Kicker raises hand and drops on his approach. Rest of team times it up so they cross the line just after he makes kick contact. NO OFFSIDES EVER!!! Sprint 10 yards and review lanes. Practice for the onside kick too. Kicker’s approach may be different for his onside kick technique so the timing will be different.
Point of kick
10 yd lane check
2) Accelerate and Avoid. Teach phases of kickoff. Players must know that post-kickoff they are too get downfield and never get blocked. For the most part avoiding contact is better as long as they remain in their lanes, as they cannot avoid to get tied up on blockers and lost ability to make tackle for minimal gain. 3) Leverage fit drill Practice players keeping the ballcarrier on their proper shoulder (for simplicity sake their inside shoulder). Practice different types of returns and how you want them to react (wedge, sideline, reverse). Where do you want your wedge breakers to make contact? If the returner tries to bounce it who should be there to make the tackle? Where? Don’t assume they know. Don’t just tell it to them. That is not effective teaching. Show them. Have them do it. ALIGNMENT systems. a) Use of #’s 1-10 & K b) Use of sides -L 1-5, R 1-5, & K CP: Who do you want to keep the ball away from on their return team?
Practice it. Make sure they know, especially your kicker. Where will the ball go? PUNT DRILLS 1) Vertical set protection (inside gap first) Punt protection blocking for the line is like offensive pass protection. You have some room to take a few steps back to gain leverage, position, Use proper power angles to make your block. This also allows you to see and pick up twists. a) Teaching Progression – Individual technique vs air, 1vs1, ½ line vs air, vs 4 or 5, Full vs air, vs rush “Regular punt vs 44 Punt D”
R4 R3 R2 R1
L2 L3 L4
2) Escape and release Once ball is kicked drill getting off block, release downfield, and getting into your coverage lanes 3) Lanes and Leverage coverage Use cones spread out five yards across the field where players must sprint to by assignment and breakdown. They must understand their proper position relation to each other. ALIGNMENTS
a) Regular = 2 Bullets (split ends), 2 wings, 1 UB) b) Tight (2 TE’s, 3 UB’s) CP: Make sure you practice the bad snap drill for Punter. Have him try to get the kick off or know what to do for; low bounce ball, off to the side, over the head. Do you always want him to kick it out of the endzone? What if you are on your own 40 yard line? PUNT BLOCK DEFENSE 1) Sprinter’s stance & BGO (green football?) Stance should allow upfield quick explosion. Not so much for power but to split gaps with quick move. Be the first to the punch with a good Ball Get Off. Drill reaction to the ball movement. Use a green football in practice to focus players. 2) Beat the block (get skinny) Practice technique. You do not want to engage but to get by ASAP. Reduce contact surface area. 3) Block point & tech (flat football, volleyball, knee pads on hands) Drill proper technique. Don’t jump. Run to the block point, where kicker makes contact with ball. Use two hands together at waist level palms down to foot. You can use volleyball so players get used to physical act. Then you can use volleyball pads on their hands so they don’t jam a finger In practice some will wuss out and develop bad habits. Let them focus on form. In games they will tough guy it for you. a) DO NOT USE YOUR STARTING PUNTER!!! He could get injured. 4) Scoop and score (rules & technique) Don’t fall on the ball. If you miss and they recover we still get the ball as they did not gain enough yards for first down. Try to take it in for six. Technique – bend knees, two hands, flick it up, catch on the move. ALIGNMENTS a) Rush men sides, R 1-4, L 1-4, 2 CB’s, Retuner(s) (see above diagram) ASSIGNMENT a) 8 man rush (44 = 4 on left and right, 53 = 5 on left 3 on right, etc) COACHING POINT *Even on all out returns have spies for bad snap* a) 1 or 2 players who show rush and come hard for block if the snap is bad or mishandled. They contain versus fake and if clean snap and punt off peel late to join return.
BENCH DRILL (last practice & pre-practice)
Everyone on sideline. Call out unit. Say starting specials player’s name. He comes out. His sub must go in on his own (they have to know). Too often penalties result in games because coaches assume all the players know and can carry out assignment. Go through the motions of gameday. Let them know how penalties can happen if they are not focused and prepared. KO and PUNT COVERAGE can also be a good conditioning drill that is football specific. Other things to prepare for; 1) Onside kick & prevent (hands team) 2) Fake punt & defending fake punt 3) Fair catch rules (Canadians the 5 yd rule) 4) Developing long snapper (must have 2!!!) www.longsnapper.com 5) What do you do if you have no kicker? 6) What is your Go for 2pt philosophy (#’s game) 7) Squib kick & Return adjustment 8) Defending the swinging gate on extra points. 9) Taking a safety. When? How? Who? 10) Kicking with the wind and into the wind (weather conditions) There are a lot of aspects to prepare for in special teams. Especially at the High School level special teams can have a major impact in every game. There are several books and videos out where you can increase your knowledge of this part of the game. I hope this has been of help to you. If you have any questions feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have picked up one new thing it has been worth it. Thank you.
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