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. Certainly this is a phase of the game that I have come to have the greatest respect for. During the past eight years I have been associated with football teams that were able to play good, sound honest defense, I think one reason that they have been good defensive football teams is the fact there was a very successful punter available to help the defensive team. By helping the defensive team, I mean a punter will put the ball in a position on the field where your defensive team has an opportunity to play its best brand of football. With the unstoppable offense that is going in today’s football, many times when your offense cannot move the ball or makes a mistake that stops it, then the ability of your punter will come into light and help your football team. I think it is rather ironic that several days after Paul Dietzel asked me to give this particular lecture on the punter, I was giving a speech at a high school banquet in the hills several miles outside of Knoxville and a gentleman at the banquet came to me and began to talk about Tennessee football. He said “Coach Dickey, I am glad that we have an opportunity to see your television show. We enjoy your brand of football and we enjoy watching it each Sunday. I have been a follower of the University of Tennessee for about 40 years now and for many years the only thing Tennessee could do was punt and win.” I am certain this is not the only combination that can produce wins but it is certainly one of the combinations that I think is definitely essential if you are going to have a winning football team and that is you must have a punter that can put the ball in a position for your defense to have an opportunity to make some big plays in the ball game, as well as to play their brand of football. The combination of a skilled punter and a good defense will never let you lose a ball game disgracefully. The teams I have been associated with I believe generally always had someone who became the punter through a matter of elimination with other players and then it became a task of going about trying to keep consistency into his game and to improve any particular shortcoming he might have but I believe if I had to select an individual from a squad and make a punter out of him, there are several things I would look for. First, I believe I would try to find a fine
competitor on my squad. Certainly the punter comes to have as much pressure on him at several times during a ball game as any individual on the team. One of the game criteria that I think our team responds with is that the big breaks in the game come with the kicking game and every time the punter goes on the field he has the pressure on him not to make a mistake of any kind that would give the other team a big break in the ball game. Many times your punter will stand in your own end zone with the wind in his face and eight men or nine rushing him and his job certainly is to get that ball out of the end zone. This is tremendous pressure on any player and here is where I would want a fine competitor in the ball game. I think another essential of a good punter would be a quick thinker. Aboy who certainly will have several things happen to him that are not expected; the snap may be bad, the weather may be against him, the particular block may be missed, something may happen that he has to make a quick movement to compensate for it, and the quick movement to compensate for it, and the quick thinker certainly would have an advantage. I think the third thing I would look for would be a boy with good snap in his leg. You might say you want a boy with a leg like a willow branch and not like a two-by-four. In going about the development of a punter, I think first thing is to assign one individual man to handle all training of the punter. I think this is important for, first, it lets the punter know that he has an individual coach who is going to cross check everything he does on the practice field and is going to take as much interest in his particular phase of the game as any other phase on the field. This will let your punter know that you have confidence in the punter and will give the coach who is handling him the best idea of what his shortcomings are, as well as his abilities. Technique of Punting The actual techniques of punting can be broken down into three phases: stance, steps and the placement of the ball. We use two types of punting — a tight punt formation where our punter is 11 yards deep and a spread punt formation where our punter is 14 yards deep. On both formations we stand the punter behind the left foot of the offensive center. We like his right foot to be slightly forward of the left by approximately four inches with the weight
Development of the Punter
Doug Dickey Head Coach University of Tennessee Knoxville, Tenn.
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Doug Dickey at a Glance
Experience: Assistant Coach, University of Arkansas1957-63); Head Coach, University of Tennessee, 1964-69 (46-15-4); Head Coach, University of Florida, 1970-78 (58-43-2). Career Head Coaching Record: 104-58-6 Conference Championships: Southeastern Conference 1967 & 1969 National Championships: 1967 (Litkenhous) AFCA Regional Coach of the Year Awards: 1965 & 1967 Notes: Doug Dickey has been involved in 25 bowl games throughout his career as either a player, coach or athletics director. He was named SEC Coach of the Year twice (1965 & 1967) and was named the 2001 winner of the Neyland Trophy by the Knoxville Quarterback Club.
approximately three-fourths on the left foot. His arms should be extended forward with just a slight bend in the elbows, the palms should be turned up. The punter’s left foot should be turned out just a fraction in order to unlock the hips so the right foot will have free motion for a good follow-through. The punter’s feet should be spread apart slightly and ready to move for any bad snap in either direction. The handling of the ball and the steps that the punter takes should be considered in one phase as they go together. The ball should be held with the right hand a little behind the middle and underneath the ball. The left hand on the left side of the ball should be used only as a guide to steady the ball. The ball generally is turned in and pointed slightly down. The punter takes a very short step with the right foot and a normal step with the left foot and then kicks with the right. The punter should be moving slightly forward into the ball as he catches it, adjust it as he moves and then places the ball on the foot to kick. The steps of the punter should be practiced over and over before he is ever allowed to kick the ball. When the ball is kicked, it should actually be placed on the right foot and the contact of the foot with the ball takes place slightly above the right knee. The arms should be fully extended to give the maximum leverage for the leg to kick the ball. There should be a smooth fluid motion by the kicker through all these steps. The toes on the right foot should be extended out as far as possible in order to get a lot of the ball on the instep. Punters
will vary as do athletes at many other positions as to their individual techniques. This is general summary of the techniques that we try to use in our punters. One simple drill for the correct drop of the ball is to merely put your punter on a hard surface that will allow the ball to bounce back through. Have your punter step through and drop the ball to the right of his kicking foot and let it hit the ground. As his right arm drops straight down by his side the ball should bounce right back into his hand as he goes through his kicking motion. The actual leg swing of the punter and the follow-through of the punter I think will vary considerably. Our particular punter this year does not come off the ground when he follows through kicking the ball. Many punters have a slight jump into the air as they kick the ball. There are a number of variations on the punt that we work on. The first variation is kicking the poocher kick. We refer to this poocher kick as a kick that is used when we are kicking from the opponent’s 30 to 45 yard line and we are going to attempt to down the ball inside their 20 yard line. In this particular case we need a high punt that we hope will hit and bounce laterally or back along the goal line. The ball generally will not be kicked as far as a normal punt and will need additional height on it. There are many variations to this kick and one thing that we certainly stress with our punter is the additional height. We ask him to hold the ball higher as he kicks it and to avoid straightening his leg as much when
he hits the ball. This will not drive the ball as much as to have a softer carry with the football. We do not kick out of bounds as we have found the percentages of trying to kick out of bounds and getting the bad kick are considerably higher than attempting to kick the poocher kick. We have fine success with being able to loft the ball high, get our offensive line of scrimmage down behind the ball and keep it from crossing the goal line. I will talk about the actual timing and distance of punters later in this lecture. The second phase of variation of the punt is kicking into the wind. This probably is the real test of a fine punter. A boy who has the ability to kick consistently the tight spiral will be very effective into the wind. We try to instruct our punter to hold the ball lower and get more of a driving force into the ball when it is going to the wind. Wind not only holds the ball back but it has a tendency to destroy the flight of the ball and to exaggerate any wobble in the spiral. This is one time where the ability of a punter to kick the ball away from a single safety man has an advantage. When kicking into the wind too low a kick would allow a punt return by the defensive team. The tilting of the ball slightly further down on the end will help get him more driving kick by the punter. When kicking with the wind which is the third variation, certainly this is the time of extra height on the ball. The other time that you would need extra height on the ball would be when the defensive safety man has the sun in his eyes and you are going to attempt to hang the ball up in the sun for him to catch. Executing this technique again we stress the ball being slightly higher by the punter with a full swinging leg action. One thing we have noticed with our punters when they are kicking this particular variation is a tendency to want to rock back and consequently get the toe up in the air and have the bad kick occur because of faulty ball drop and foot action. Again, a ball kicked too far with the wind would certainly have a damaging effect by a punt return by the defensive team. We’ve talked about the technique used by the punter and now actually the training of the punter. We start our training of our punter by having him come early to practice and do his warm up before any other members of the team arrive. I think it is important that the punter warm up before any team punting is attempted so that all bad kicks and warm up kicks which might be short and ragged are eliminated prior to his
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work with the team. Our punters warm up by jogging several laps around the field, going through stretching exercises and then striding until they have come to a sprinting speed for which we know they have warmed up their legs properly. This eliminates any danger of pulled muscles. After the punter has warmed up properly, then he begins his kicking with an offensive center. It is important that the center and punter work together as they must do so during a ball game and the ability of the center certainly directly affects the ability of the punter. Our coach checks the steps and leg swing of each punter as he begins kicking the ball. After they have kicked several kicks, our kicking coach will move around behind the punter and hold his hand at a target he wants the ball snapped to by the offensive center. These may be high to the right, high to the left, low left, low right. This makes the punter move over to the ball, get back in line with his protection and get the ball kicked off in the normal time. We then use third and fourth down situations to the punter and again vary the snap of the center to include bounces off the ground. On bad snaps that hit the ground the punter attempts to field these as a short stop would by scooping them up in his hands. If it is a cleanly fielded ball on third down, we instruct him to go through with his kicking action. If it is a badly handled ball, then, of course, he merely tries to run the ball back toward the line of scrimmage. On fourth down situations the ball must be kicked out and again stress is placed on fielding the ball and getting it off no matter what happens. One other drill that we like to use with our punters is what we call a distraction. Punting must have a concentration in the laying of the ball on the foot and the followthrough of the kick. If the punter is taking his eyes off the ball, to watch the people rushing in, then he will not do a good job of being consistent with the punt. We line up players several yards outside the offensive center and have them rush toward the punter and then reach out with their hands and veer off at the last minute to the right, to the left or pull up and jump high where the punter will have to kick the ball out without taking his eyes off the ball and paying attention to the distraction of the rushers. Any distraction of this type certainly will help in developing concentration by the punter on the ball. After a punter has kicked several times, approximately 10, with the normal punt, he will work with the wind and
then against the wind and then on the Poocher kick. The ability to kick a Poocher kick with a loose style, floating action, will cause the ball to bounce higher when it hits the ground and to give the covering team an opportunity to down it, whereas, the driving high spiral that hits the ground has a tendency to take a low scooting bounce and go through the end zone away from the covering offensive team. The kicking game is the first phase covered each day in our practice schedule so our punters are warmed up when the team punting begins. One of the essentials, as far as the punter is concerned, in this is that he have worked on the spread punt with team protection and that he concentrate on getting the ball inside the coverage. We feel our best coverage from tight punt is approximately 35 to 40 yards. Our coverage from spread punt is 45 yards. Anything over this from either formation certainly leaves us vulnerable for the punt return. Occasionally, of course, you will be able to cover the longer kick, depending upon the number of rushers the other team is using. We always move the ball from one hash mark to the next not only for the coverage but for the punter to get the feeling of kicking from all spots on the field as well as from his own end zone. The coach in charge of the punter will have a stop watch with him at all times and will time all kicks by the punters. We use a time of 1.6 and 1.7 in the tight punt formation for our punter who is 11 yards deep; in the spread punt formation where our punter is 14 yards deep we feel anything between two and 2.2 seconds is an adequate punt. This, of course, includes center snap. The ability of the punter to hang the ball in the air will certainly affect the distance that he can kick and still be inside the coverage of his team. We feel that is kept away from the other team for seven seconds can be covered within a 45-yard range. This means hanging the ball in the air approximately five seconds from the foot. This is not a difficult thing if you will work on it and have your punter take pride in hanging the ball in the air. We do not feel that adverse weather conditions affect the punter such as rain or water. The official generally keeps the ball dry enough with the towel that this does not become a problem with him. If a driving rain were to occur then we would probably kick from a tight punt formation to insure the snap to the punter. The one thing that would affect a punter would be extreme
cold. In such cases we use the hand warmers to keep the punter’s hands warm so he can catch the ball from the center. One thing I feel is good for the punter is to occasionally stop your offensive practice and have the punter come and punt the ball one time or stop the practice and have the punter punt the ball one time after an interval of maybe seven to eight minutes from the last time he punted the ball. This will occur during a ball game and many times the punter will miss the first punt in the game as badly as any other at any time. This is a mental block with many punters as much as it is a physical block of being able to get off the first punt. This weekly schedule of the punter’s activities, I think is very important. We try to cover all phases of our kicking game on Monday and we give our punter a thorough review of all types of kicks that he might have, of course, depending upon the wind that is available on our practice field that particular day. Tuesday we have a normal 20-minute kicking period where we spend more time on the spread punt and tight punt phase of the game. Wednesdays we have a very short kicking period and Thursday again we have a longer punting period and spend a lot of time on the tight punt, with the punter kicking out of our own end zone and on the poocher kick. Fridays we do not let our punters kick at all and then on Saturdays with the pregame warm up we start punting with the wind and then punt against the wind. I think warming up the punter on Saturday is much like a baseball pitcher prior to a ball game. Certainly he is the one who knows when he is warmed up, when he is ready to kick the ball satisfactorily. I think a coach should be responsible for him on game day and should time his kicks to insure he has got the rhythm and the particular timing of the kicking game that you want. In summary, I think the stance, steps and placement of the ball by any punter must become a rhythm. He should have training to develop this rhythm and then should have training when the bad snap affects this rhythm. The wind in any ball game will affect the punting and he should be aware of it. The ability to use the out of bounds kick or the poocher kick is one that should be worked on every week. All kicking should be timed and used on a marked-off field. The time you spend working with your punter will pay as big a dividend for you as any one individual on the football field. Thank you, gentlemen.
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