hile it is certainly true that every play is important during a football game, a kickoff is, by nature, one of the most

important. Every offensive coach agonizes over finding ways to get the ball to his best athlete in the open field. The kickoff provides a built-in opportunity to do just that, so it is imperative that the kicking team do everything possible to limit the opportunity for a big play that can result in a touchdown or great field position for the offense. It seems that every year, more and more teams are “squib” kicking or “pooch” kicking the ball to eliminate big returns. They are willing to sacrifice field position in order to avoid the potential for the big play. That certainly is a sound concept, however, the deep kickoff gives the kicking team a chance to pin the opponent deep in their own territory, something that is generally not possible on squibs and pooch kicks. For the purposes of this article I will focus on covering balls kicked deep. Basic Kickoff Coverage System We number our coverage players from the inside out on each side of the kicker from one to five respectively (Diagram 1).


Diagram 2: Two Funnel System

Kickoff Coverage

assigned landmarks based on where we are trying to kick the ball. Ideally, these landmarks will create relatively even spacing between coverage players (approximately five-yard increments). Prior to the kick, players should align five to eight yards off the free kick line, on their landmark and in a two-point stance facing in at a 45degree angle to the kicker. Landmarks are as follows: Middle Kick L5 Four yards from sideline. L4 Top of the numbers. L3 Split the hash & numbers. L2 On the hash. L1 One yard inside the goal post. R1 One yard inside the goal post. R2 On the hash. R3 Split the hash & numbers. R4 Top of the numbers. R5 Four yards from sideline. Kick Left Two yards from sideline. Bottom of the numbers. Three yards inside the numbers. Three yards outside the hash. Split the hash & goal post. Split the goal posts. Split the hash & goal post. Three yards outside the hash. Two yards inside the numbers. Four yards from the sideline. Kick Right Four yards from the sideline. Two yards inside the numbers. Three yards outside the hash. Split the hash & goal post. Split the goal post. Split the hash & goal post. Three yards outside the hash.

Diagram 1: Numbering Players

Our kickoff coverage is based on a “two funnel system.” After the ball is caught by the returner, we attempt to form a first funnel with two force players (usually L4 and R4) acting as the “outer edges of the funnel” and six lane players acting as the “points of the funnel.” Ideally, the force players will restrict the running lane to about five yards width and as many lane players as possible will fill the five yard lane (Diagram 2). The safeties (usually L5 and R5) and the kicker will form the second funnel five yards behind the first funnel, in case the returner breaks through. Ideally, the safeties will constrict the running lane for the second funnel to about two yards and the kicker will fill the two-yard lane (Diagram 2). Alignment and Landmarks On each kickoff, coverage players are

L5 L4 L3 L2 L1 R1 R2 R3 R4 R5

L5 L4 L3 L2 L1 R1 R2

R3 R4 R5

Three yards inside the numbers. Bottom of the numbers. Two yards from sideline.

It is important that all coverage players understand that the direction called in the huddle is only where we are attempting to kick the ball. Since the kicker does not always kick the ball where he is aiming, all players must react to where the ball is actually kicked as they run down the field. Covering a Kick Although coverage assignments for the kickoff team can be switched at times in order to give the return team different looks, in general L5 and R5 are safeties, L4 and R4 are force players and L1, L2, L3, R1, R2 and R3 are lane players. The coaching of kickoff coverage players can be broken down into three areas: attacking the free kick line; responsibilities before the ball is caught; and responsibilities after the ball is caught. The following are the coaching points we use for coverage players in each phase of kickoff coverage: Attacking the Free Kick Line (FKL) Learn the nuances and steps of the kicker in order to ensure that you arrive at the free kick line as close as possible to the same time the ball is kicked. While we would like you to hit the free kick line at full speed and at the same time as the kicker, being at full speed is more important. I would rather have you at full speed and a step short of the free kick line than at the free kick line but having to “stutter step” to avoid being offside when the ball is kicked. Above all, do not be offside. Responsibilities Before the Ball is Caught From the time the ball is kicked until it is caught by the returner, you should run full speed on your landmark attempting to get inside the opponent’s 40-yard line before the ball is caught. Be sure to see the movement of the returners in order to determine the path of the ball and to know when it is caught. Never look up for the flight of the ball. If a blocker comes at you prior to the ball being caught, then avoid the block (to the easiest side) and return to your landmark as soon as possible. When the ball is kicked, all lane players should key the five front-line blockers of the

return team. Be ready for specific blocks based on their movement. • If a front-five player attacks you, then you should avoid him and then get back on your landmark. • If the front five players drop, then find the deep people to determine the flight of the ball and expect a wedge return. If the wedge develops, then be ready to squarely take on the blockers. • If you see a front five blocker go across to the opposite side, then expect a cross blocking scheme. Responsibilities after the Ball is Caught 1. Force Players: As a force player, you are the outer edge of the first funnel. Your job is to constrict the running lane allowing the lane players to make the tackle. After the ball is caught, squeeze to the ball and remain on the level of the returner after reaching ball depth. As the returner moves up-field, you must work to stay on the same level as the ball. This will prevent the returner from breaking outside your edge of the funnel while also preventing him from slipping between you and the lane players (Diagram 3). Never take an uncontrolled shot at the returner, since the ball must be kept inside the funnel at all costs.

Diagram 4: Ball Bounces Outside the Force Player

Diagram 5: Ball Breaks Through the First Funnel

Diagram 3: Force Players Work With the Ball

2. Safeties: The safeties’ responsibilities are similar to those of the force players but are performed in the “second funnel.” Once the ball is caught, close in to the ball, “folding under the force” and establishing “hold position” (five yards behind and twoyards outside the force player). From hold position, if the returner bounces outside the force player, then come up and make the tackle (Diagram 4); if he breaks through the first funnel, then close in as the outside edge of the second funnel and make the tackle (Diagram 5). 3. Lane Players: Once the ball is caught, you are what we call “leverage on the ball,” i.e. you should aim for the near shoulder of the returner. As the returner changes his path, you should adjust so that

you are always aiming at his near shoulder. Never take a “cut-off angle” by aiming for where you think the returner is headed. Cut off angles just open cutback lanes for the returner. If a blocker comes at you and the returner is not threatening your lane, then avoid the block to the ball side. Since each player whose lane is not being threatened will avoid a block to the ball side, spacing between lane players will be maintained (Diagram 6).

Diagram 6: Avoid to the Ball

If a blocker comes at you and the returner is threatening your lane, then take the blocker on squarely using both hands while keeping your shoulders square to the shoulders of the blocker. You can then come off the block to the side that the returner cuts. Do not choose a side of the block until the returner chooses a side, since the he will simply go opposite the side you choose if you pick a side before he does. You can never be right if you avoid a blocker when the returner is threatening your lane. 4. Kicker: Once the ball is caught, you become the “point man” of the second funnel. Run straight down the field and be inside out on the ball. Fill inside the second funnel formed by the safeties and make the tackle if the ball breaks through the first funnel. Ball Outside the Numbers If the ball gets outside the numbers (whether it is kicked outside the numbers or the returner takes it outside the numbers), then the force player to that side becomes

a seventh lane player, the safety becomes the force player and we consider the sideline to be the safety since there is no room for the returner to bounce outside the sideline edge of the funnel (Diagram 7). Therefore, force players must know lane responsibilities and safeties must know force responsibilities.

Diagram 7: Ball Outside the Numbers

Personnel Players will be selected to fill the kickoff team positions based on the following attributes:

Force players should be among the best athletes on the team while also being aggressive and intelligent football players. We usually use free safeties and strong safeties in these positions. Safeties are the most important coverage positions on the kickoff team. Safeties must be fast, disciplined and sure tacklers. Due to the importance of these positions, we usually use two of our starting defensive backs who fit these criteria. Lane players should be aggressive, tough and sure tacklers. Speed is an asset in this position, but cannot make up for deficiencies in tackling or courage. We usually use linebackers, fullbacks, tight ends and some defensive backs in these positions. The kicker’s most important asset is consistent distance on his kicks. If one kicker is consistently kicking the ball an appreciable distance farther than the other kickers, then he will be our kickoff man. If however, our deepest kickers are similar in distance, then we will use the kicker who is more accurate in directing his kicks.

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For the first time in the history of intercollegiate athletics, the AFCA, NCAA, the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) and Collegiate Commissioners Association (CCA) have joined together to create NCAA Football. The coalition announced a partnership to improve, preserve, promote and market the game of college football. The program is expected to generate ‘new’ dollars that will go to athletics departments at all levels. The organization will be charged with heightening interest in and awareness of college football. It will market and promote the game on a national level by developing a marketing fund for promotions, licensing, merchandising, media, hospitality and grassroots initiatives. What Is NCAA Football?: NCAAFootball represents a coalition of AFCA, NCAA, NACDAand the CCAformed to improve, preserve and promote the game of college football. It is the first time these groups have pooled their resources under one umbrella for the betterment of college football. We call this “The Power of One.” Mission Statement: To improve, preserve and promote the game of college football for those who play the game, those who coach the game and for those who support the game. Where Did NCAA Football Begin?: The opportunity to promote college football on a national level got its start in several places. NCAA Football evolved from the 125th Anniversary celebration of college football and College Football USA. College Football USA was an initiative begun by the AFCA and NACDA. Board of Directors: NCAA Football will have a 14-member board comprised of 10 Division I-A conference representatives, one Division I-AA conference representative, one NCAA s t a ff representative, one A F C A representative and one NACDA representative. Who Benefits?: NCAA Football will take the collective initiative of conference commissioners, football coaches, athletic directors and the NCAA to create, with corporate America, specific initiatives to promote college football. Revenue generated will be directed back to a national marketing fund established to build and promote college football. Participating institutions will receive revenues for usage of their marks. What Institutions Will Participate?: All 566 NCAA footballplaying institutions will have the opportunity to participate in the program. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) is developing a similar program called NAIA Football . For information on NCAA Football and on NCAA Football decals for your school’s football helmets, contact Host Communications at 972-778-7700.