Special Teams Wins Games

n behalf of our Head Coach Urban Meyer and the rest of the Utah staff, we would like to thank the AFCA for giving us this opportunity to speak about our philosophies and ideas on our special teams at Utah. This past season, we finished No. 1 in the country in kickoff return average with 28.2 yards per return, and 27th in punt average, with a 2.2 yard return average. Our kickoff team held our opponents to 16.2 yards per return average. Each member of our staff has a role on special teams, that lets the players know that special teams are important and each position is coached with great detail. Coach Meyer and our staff have the philosophy that all phases of the kicking game are the third component of how we win at Utah. I will go through our philosophy of special teams, our goals and then I will give you more details to our punt, kickoff return and kickoff coverage teams. Every time our special teams take the field, they have an opportunity to positively influence the outcome of the game. As a staff, we have researched and developed our special teams phases with the philosophy to remain as non-complex as possible, but have enough diversity to handle all situations. Each phase of the Utah Special Teams has three simplistic goals: 1. Win the battle of field position. 2. Out hit the opponent. 3. Score points or set up a score. 1. Win The Battle of Field Position During the course of a game every time there is a kicking situation, there is the opportunity to gain or lose 40-plus yards in field position. Statistically, it is critical to understand that the ability to score points is directly related to the point where the drive will begin. The chart (Diagram 1) will demonstrate the significance of field position during the course of a game. The offense’s probability to score a touchdown increases 11 times when the drive begins on the plus-side of the 50-yard line. 2. Out Hit the Opponent To be a member of the Utah special teams is a privilege. Each member must take great pride in this privilege and work hard to keep it. Every player on a special team unit is as important as any position on offense or defense. We will play only the best. Our special teams will not only have

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Diagram 1

a great bearing on the outcome of the game, but will reflect across the country what Utah Football is all about. There is only an absolute to being a member, fly around and hit the opponent. 3. Score Points/Set up a Score We believe our special teams philosophy and approach will greatly increase our chances of scoring points for our team or place our offense in the most advantageous position to score. Our special teams can score points in the following ways: A. Field goal. B. Extra point. C. Punt return for a touchdown. D. Kick off return for a touchdown. E. Punt block for a touchdown. F. Field goal block for a touchdown. G. PAT block for two points. H. Cause a fumble on a kickoff return or a punt return and advance it for a touchdown. Utah Special Team Game by Game Goals 1. Win. 2. Better average field position after a kickoff than opponent. 3. Better net punt average than opponent. 4. Better punt return average than opponent. 5. Score or set up a score. 6. Give the offense the ball at least one time on the plus-side of the 50. 7. Never give the opponent the ball on our side of the 50. 8. Perfect execution (holds, snaps, ball security). 9. Have at least one game breaker.

A. Score. B. Block a punt. C. Block a kick. D. Recover onside kick. E. Cause a turnover. F. Recover a turnover. G. Down a punt inside the 10-yard line. H. 60-yard change of field position. 10. No penalties. Punt Protection and Coverage I. Philosophy Unquestionably, this phase of the kicking game is the most volatile for us. For that reason, this team will consist of 11 soldiers, that will strain every opportunity we have. The complexion of many games has turned due to a blocked punt or a long return. For these reasons, this area of the kicking game demands more practice time and maximum concentration by every soldier. II. Physical and Mental Requirements A. Athletes with a strong sense of responsibility, people we can count on to do their job. B. Athletes with intelligence, people that know what to do and how to do it. C. Hitters. III. Punt Team Goals A. No blocked punts. B. No punts returned for touchdowns. C. Net punting average of 36.5 yards. D. Average punt return of 8.0 yards or less. IV. General Information A. Timing - We must adhere to perform our snap-to-punt process within the following standards. 1. Snap..................... .08 seconds Punter....................1.3 seconds Total time of kick....2.1 seconds 2. If our time-to-kick sequences takes longer than 2.1 seconds, we risk the possibility of a blocked punt or premature release by our coverage team. These are the job descriptions we look for at each position. They are tight end, runningbacks, linebackers, safeties and corners. Gunners - big play makers; force two blockers to control you. Slots - contain men; excellent speed and blocking skills in space. Tackles - strong blockers with speed. Guards - bigger, tougher, stronger blockers.

Snapper - velocity and accuracy in snap. Personal Protector - quarterback of the unit; toughness and speed. Punter - get away, hang time, distance and accuracy. Punt Team Alignments

Diagram 4

Diagram 2

Center - Aligns first by setting his feet at his selected width before he touches the ball. Guards - Take a six-inch split from the center (left guard, one-inch split). Tackles - Take a six-inch split from the guard. Slots - Align with the outside of your inside foot on the outside of the tackles outside foot. Gunners - maximum split (middle of field- bottom of numbers, on hash, field gunner on the hash, boundary gunner between numbers and boundary). Personal Protector - five yards behind right guard. Punter - thirteen yards deep. Vertical Sets

Position Responsibility Gunners Ball Slots #1 Tackles #2 Guards #3 Center Left #4 PP Right #4 • All vertical set straight back and as long as possible. Gain depth before you domino out. Hold apex. Speed and depth is key. Punt Coverage

Diagram 5

Diagram 3

Punt coverage is based upon a lane relative to your leverage on the returner. Your lane is a direct course to your leverage spot. This spot is defined when you get to a point 15-yards from the returner. At that point, you close to your leverage responsibility. Coverage Progression 1. Protect. 2. Shed. 3. Sprint to your lane spot. 4. Press up to the returner and come to balance with proper leverage. 5. Keep the returner inside and in front of you. 6. Tackle and strip. Coverage Assignments Gunners - No lane; inside No. 1 leverage; keep it in front; make it go lateral. Attack opposite shoulder of returner. Pooch coverage, defend the goalline to the returner. Slots - 15-yard lane spot, contain leverage, close to seven yards outside at ball

Technique: Kick with back foot gaining ground back, while driving thumbs to your chest. Drag up-foot back. Be prepared to kick three times before you domino out. Zone: Man assignments, with deeper sets. Man: Man assignments, with shorter sets. Depth of set is critical. Black Protection Man protection with zone drops.

level. Fold after ball is certain through and away. Tackles - 10-yard spot, force leverage, keep returner inside and in front. Guards - Five-yard spot, heavy leverage, keep returner inside and in front. Center - Ball leverage, go after the returner. Personal Protector - Ball leverage. Lane Adjustments If you beat the man inside of you on your release, exchange lanes and take his lane. The man coming out late will replace outside. Example - If the guard gets held up, the tackle will replace him at five yards from the returner. Kick-Off Return At the University of Utah this year, we were able to lead the nation in kickoff return average without returning one for a touchdown. This was a result of having a consistent scheme that we believe in and a consistent performance by our players. We have six different staff members that coach different positions on the return team. This individual coaching allows us to pay great attention to detail. There are four objectives that we preach to our team: 1. Force the opponent to not kick deep. Become the most feared return unit in the country. 2. Secure the ball for the offense. 3. Average starting field position past the 30-yard line. 4. Cross the 50 with a return one time per game. It is important for every member of the team to understand and believe in these objectives. Another important aspect of the kickoff return team is making sure that you are not asking your players to do something that they are not capable of doing. You must match your personnel to the job description of the position. The following is the job descriptions we have for our personnel: Center: Most demanding and critical position on return team. Must possess great change of direction skills, speed and good size to handle single block on No. 5 or No. 6. Must be a great competitor. Guards: The ability to get depth in drop and agility to block in the open field. He is the post man on double teams with return to your side. Needs speed to cut off coverage on returns away.

Tackles: Aggressiveness as the cleanup man on double team blocks. Ability to block in space and speed to cut-off coverage on returns away. Tight Ends: Explosive hitter to set the corner on returns to his side with “Ambush” block. Very good speed for cut-off block on returns away. Must possess good receiving skills and judgment for “Sky” kicks. Fullbacks: Aggressive players with size and strength. Contact players. Ability to work well with a partner. Good hands to field short kicks. Returners: Great speed, extraordinary vision and exceptional acceleration. Competitor with flair. Must also have the ability and desire to block one-on-one. Ability to catch the football and hold on to it. Courage. We spend a great deal of time finding players that fit these job descriptions and have the desire to get the job done. This year, we did not have one offensive or defensive starter on our return team. This also allows members of the team to work on their technique. We use two returns, a right (Diagram 6)

Diagram 6

will all use a left shoulder block technique. They must keep there shoulders square and be in a football position. Block the coverage man with their left shoulder and loose their man away from the side of the return. Our fullbacks will lead the return up the right side and will double team kickout No. 9. The off returner will block No. 10. The rules just flip for us to run our left return. One of the keys to using this type of return is knowing the depth and direction of each kick and how it will effect the coverage lane of the defender you are trying to block. By having a simple scheme that does not change, we are able to spend time on the little details that are involved in the return. Our practice time incorporates individual technique work for this team. By having several coaches involved, we are able to have players that understand and trust their assignment and technique. In our program under the instruction of Coach Meyer, we place as much emphasis on each phase of special teams as we do on offense and defense. This can be seen in the pride that our coaches and players have in the kickoff return team as well as every other phase of special teams. Kick Off Coverage At the University of Utah, we are primarily a deep-left kickoff team. We hang our hats on being discipline with our landmarks, and have all 11 players do their jobs with fanatical effort. In 2003, we were ranked second in the Mountain West Conference with 34 attempts against us yielding 550 yards at 16.2 per attempt and zero touchdowns. Our great effort and discipline on kickoff coverage played a large role in this year’s conference championship run. Mechanics Stance: Turned at 90 degrees with hands on knees. Takeoff: Anticipate kicker ’s rhythm and hit the line full speed. Vision: Cover with speed, maintaining good vision and anticipate where ball is being returned. Read return, it is a play (Diagram 7). Coverage: Anticipate where the ball is going (speed zone). Converge: After covering through your lane and up the field, start converging on ball by attacking through the blocker’s shoulder (hard hat) in the appropriate direc-

and a left return. The rules are the same only flipped with each return. In our right return, we want our right guard and right tackle to set the return by double teaming No. 8 of the coverage team (we count 1-10 left to right). Our right tight end will then block in No. 7. Our center, left guard, left tackle and left tight end will block numbers six, four, three and five respectively. They

Diagram 7

C. Sky right D. Squib right E. Surprise onside F. Onside check 3. On Field: The kickoff team will line up in a bunch alignment on the field sixyards behind the ball. 6 5 4 3 2 17 LM M K RM 4. Alignments: After the referees command the kicker will give the command “set.” Sprint to your alignments. 5. Stance: Turned at ball, hands resting on knees. 6. Take off: The kicker will have his arm raised awaiting everyone to get aligned. The kicker will say “Ready” as his hand comes down. 7. The game is now in control of the kicker. He will approach the ball when he is ready. We must move with the kicker and time it up to be sure we are not offsides (sprint). Deep Left - Rules, Landmarks and Coaching Points

Diagram 9

tion of the return man. Attack the ball carrier by using inside shoulder force. Contain: The assigned people must be disciplined to maintain their course and be sure nothing gets outside them. Safeties: Sprint up field through lane and come to balance at 40-yard line. You must make the stop. Missiles: Be first down field with opportunity to make the first hit. Low and hard. Work around wedge. Coverage 1. Huddle on our sideline at the 50-yard line. Get call from Coach Meyer. 6 5 4 3 2 17 LM M K RM 2. Missile will set the huddle and make all huddle calls: Huddle Calls: A. Deep left (game plan) B. Squib left

Diagram 8

Missile (M): Nose up returner, fly directly to the ball. Left Missile (LM): Outside number of

the returner, keep leverage on returner. Right Missile (RM): Outside number of the returner, keep leverage on returner. No. 1 - Contain player; landmark L2; bottom of the numbers, inside shoulder force, never let ball outside (21 Rule). No. 2 - Force player; landmark L3; two yards on top of the numbers, inside shoulder free. No. 3 - Force player; landmark L4; split difference between numbers and hash. Inside shoulder force. No. 4 - Force player; landmark L5; hash, inside shoulder force. No. 5 - Field player; landmark L6; near upright, inside shoulder force. No. 6 - Field Contain; landmark R6; far upright; (21 Rule) never let ball outside of you. No. 7- Field safety; 40-plus; goal post; Do not let ball outside of you. Never cross the 40-plus. Keep the ball on inside numbers. Kicker: Boundary safety; 40-plus; numbers; do not let ball outside of you. Never cross the 40-plus. Keep ball on inside number.

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