Coaching Punters

 

Special teams play provides field position and point production. However, their success often hinges upon the specialists, primarily the kickers’ abilities. The kickers are responsible, just as the other players on the team to work hard to improve their technique putting them in a position to excel in the game. As a coach, you need to know what the kicker needs on game day, and specifically know what to technically tell them before a kick. This POST is designed to help coaches do that – provide a few technical reminders. It is not a comprehensive instructional manual for punters.

Punters that can kick the ball out of the stadium but provide a thrill a minute when catching snaps will take years off a coach’s life. Therefore, the punter must be athletic because they must be able to move, catch snaps and kick on the run. We have our punter work with the receivers during their individual period. This improves the punters hands, helping them develop the ability to catch cleanly – not only catching the front part of the snap, but fielding low, high or wide snaps.

In general, a punt must travel high and far. Therefore, the focus in teaching techniques should focus only on the aspects that impact height and distance. The following is a teaching progression for punters:

1. Alignment – deep enough to keep the block spot deeper than 10 yards.
2. Stance – balanced, athletic position that allows the punter to move efficiently in any direction.
3. Drop – impacts height, distance and accuracy.
4. Contact – the approach and subsequent foot-to-ball controls the aerodynamic flight of the ball.
5. Situational Punting – drive punt, field punt, hang-time punt and the corner punt.
6. Specialty Punts – these include pooch punts (by punter and placekicker), quick kicks, free-kicks and kick after a safety.

ALIGNMENT

We have found that fourteen yards is an optimum distance to set the punter, directly behind the center. This assures that the block spot will be deeper than the typical 10-yard block spot, regardless of whether the punter uses a 2-step or 3-step approach. We can move this distance up or back based upon the center’s ability, in connection with punter’s ability to use either a 2-step or 3-step punt. The key combination is that the block spot must be slightly deeper than 10-yards, and the get off time less than 2.0 seconds.

Coaching Point: Game night assign a coach to watch the punter’s alignment, telling him to move up or back if improperly aligned.

STANCE

A punter has no chance to execute if they do not catch the snap. The stance must put the punter in position to catch the snap or handle a misdirected snap. The stance should put the punter in an athletic position, feet shoulder-width apart, with the punting foot back in a toe-to-instep relationship for a 2-step approach or the nonpunting foot back in a toe-to-instep relationship for a 3-step approach. The body weight should be forward on the balls of the feet, with a slight bend at the waist and knees, which moves the shoulders forward in alignment with the feet, knees and hips. This is the most efficient position to allow the punter to move in all directions to catch the snap – forward, right, left, jump or bend.

Again, catching the snap is the single most important aspect of punting. As such, the arms should hang loosely in front of and away from the body with the palms facing then center – in position to catch the snap. The head must be focused on the center.

Coaching Point: The punter should shuffle his feet to keep whole body in front of misdirected snaps to facilitate a direct punting line. This skill, punting the football after catching misdirected snaps, must be practiced.

DROP

The punter must reach out to catch the snap at arm’s length, with a slight give to the elbows as the ball is received – similar to catching a pass. Once the ball is in the punter’s hands, rotate or move it into the “perfect place”; i.e., laces up called the “mold”. The laces up helps punter focus to provide a straight ball.

A good football drop position starts with the grip. There are three types of grips for the drop hand, which is the hand to the punting foot side; (1) hand on top, (2) hand underneath, or (3) hand on the side. We teach the hand on the side because it allows the punter to see the laces (top of the football) and provides a leveling mark with the horizontal seam (on the side of the football). The football is held with the fingers spread and the butt end of the ball in the palm. The middle finger is a reference point along the side seam of the ball – becomes a reference point to provide consistency in the mold.

The off hand should be placed toward the front (nose) of the ball, with the middle finger along the middle seam. This hand is a guide only, and should be placed lightly against the ball. The off hand moves away from the ball as the drop hand releases the ball.

The wrist should be held straight, as if shaking hands with the football, not stiff or bent in or out. This hand-shaking position will turn the nose of the football a degree inward allowing the ball to turn over into a spiral when kicked. If the ball is turned too far inward, it becomes more difficult to make the ball spiral and the nose has a tendency to dive down and inside causing the punt to hook (hook ball).

Coaching Point: To find the correct position, grip the football as though shaking hands with the ball, hold it straight out dropping it without moving the hand or arm. The release is accomplished by spreading the fingers simultaneously away from the ball. The ball should drop flat, bouncing on the fat portion of the under belly of the football.


The drop arm elbow should point at the ground, and be in line with the hip of the punting leg. This will facilitate the ball being dropped in line with and directly onto the punting foot. The drop must be strong and effective, but most importantly, consistent. This is accomplished by two factors, lowering the ball for the drop and extending the ball away from the body. The first element occurs with the drop arm elbow and wrist lowering the ball simultaneously without bending. Any inconsistency will result in the nose being tilted; i.e., the ball will not drop flat. The second component requires the arm holding the ball to be fully extended with a slight bend in the elbow, in conjunction with a bend at the waist positioning the shoulders over the toes.

Coaching Points: Variations in the drop, specifically the lowering or extending the ball, will cause inconsistent results. The drop must keep the ball flat. If the nose is up, they will kick the back end creating an end-over-end punt; if the nose is down they will strike the front end creating a wobbly spiral. Whereas not extending the ball properly will put it on the back of the foot causing a short-legged kick.

The final elements of the drop include the starting height and speed of the drop. The starting height is chest high across from the nipples when the ball is extended. The ball should be raised to this position as the punter begins his approach. The ball is dropped softly by guiding in downward from the starting height six to eight inches before releasing the grip. These two elements, starting height and drop speed, impact how high off the ground that the ball is kicked, which in turns determines the height and distance the ball travels.

Here is a recap of the key points to the drop:

• Use a hand on the side type grip, held by the fingertips, with the middle finger along the horizontal seam of the ball. The point of the ball is in the palm.
• Shake hands with the ball – the wrist should be held straight with no upward or downward tilt, which keeps the ball flat.
• Raise the ball to chest high (starting height), keeping it there throughout the approach steps.
• Control the speed of the drop by guiding the football six to eight inches down the drop line before releasing it.
• Lower the ball in one motion, keeping the wrist, drop arm elbow straight throughout the drop. The ball must drop flat or parallel to the ground.
• Spread the fingers away from and off the ball to release it.

BALL DROP DRILL

Purpose: Perfect a critical technique that puts the football in a good striking position.
Equipment: Football and a white line.

Procedure:
• Stand with the punting foot pointing straight down the line. Also, the hips, shoulders, and knees should be pointing straight down the line.
• Use the proper drop mechanics dropping the ball directly on the line. The ball should land flat and bounce straight back up into the air – not forward or backwards.

This is an every day drill (“EDD”) performing two sets of ten repetitions.

Key Points
Do not allow the punter to lose concentration.
If the ball does not hit the line:
• Make sure that the elbow is pointing at the ground.
• Fingers spread away from the ball to release it.

If the ball bounces forward or backward:
• Drop arm elbow and wrist must lower the football simultaneously without bending.
• The wrist must be in a “hand-shaking” position, not bent down or up.

CONTACT

The first element in having good contact with the ball is the approach. The punter should use the approach that he is most comfortable with. A coach should not be overly concerned about which approach the punter uses, instead the total package (get off time) must be less than 2.0 seconds and the block spot more than 10 yards behind the LOS. Some punters may have quicker feet, or even begin the first step as the ball is traveling back toward them. The approaches can be either a 2-step or 3-step approach. However, all punters must learn to use a 2-step when punting out of the end zone.

The stepping pattern creates a rhythm that helps the punter transfer a maximum force as they strike the football. Most punters feel more comfortable with a 3-step approach, and in general this approach generates more momentum and speed. The 2-step approach is more mechanical. The approach steps should not begin until the ball has been caught. Then, regardless of the approach, the body should remain in an athletic position, with a quiet upper body throughout the approach steps. The approach paths should also remain straight – no drift right or left.

APPROACH STEPS

Two-Step
• Place more weight in the non-punting foot while in the stance. This will facilitate the first step is with the punting foot because you can push off the non-punting foot.
• The second step is with the non-punting, as the punting leg cocks in preparation of the leg swing.

Three-Step
• The first step is a short weight-shifting 6 to 8 inch step with the non-punting foot. There should be a transfer of body weight forward.
• The second step, with the punting foot is a drive step that is a normal stride length. This step provides a gain in body speed for a transfer of force to the punt.
• The third step, with the non-punting foot is slightly longer than the drive step because of the body speed created with step two. The punting leg should cock in preparation of the leg swing.

Foot-to-ball
Precise contact with the foot determines whether or not you will get the ball to turnover into a spiral. The punter must have the toe depressed (pointed similar to a ballet dancer) when making contact. The contact with the ball should be made with the large bone on the top of the foot. A flat surface, from the toe to the ankle (and actually up the shin) is created by fully extending the toe, ankle and foot.

The punter wants the meaty part of the foot (large bone on top) to hit the underbelly of the ball flush. Dropping the ball parallel to the ground (flat) will expose only the fat underbelly of the football and prevent the kicker from “double kicking” the ball; i.e., making contact with the ball twice.

The upper body plays an important role in guiding the football off of the foot. The shoulders must be square to the aiming spot throughout the contact phase, which would be parallel to the LOS if kicking the ball straight down field, or angle a degree off parallel when directional punting. The eyes will actually keep the punter’s shoulders in the perfect position, as long as they are focused on the ball throughout the contact phase. As the ball is raised to chest high, the shoulders have a slight lean backwards, but as the ball is lowered (dropped) the shoulders begin to approach a vertical position. Finally, as contact is made, the shoulders are slightly forward.

Swing
The punter must develop a consistent aggressive straight swing plane. The ability to execute a straight leg swing allows the punter to directionally kick. The punting foot should be cocked behind the buttock of the punting leg just as the plant foot hits the ground. This alignment places the leg in position to swing straight to the football. If the leg is cocked right or left, the swing plane will end up across the body. There will be a loss of power and accuracy.

Contact with the ball is made 2 to 4 inches above the knee, as the leg is swing up or ascending. This is just as the leg passes parallel to the ground. The leg is straight, with the knee locked out, the hips exploding into the punt and the weight on the plant foot is being shifted to the toes pushing the body up and through the contact point. Lots happening! However, the results of the punt provide immediate feedback. The punter can make small adjustments to correct the technical errors.

The finish is simply a natural occurrence when the punter is technically sound. The punter’s kicking leg should finish at his head or make contact with his chest. The body should be three to four feet downfield from the contact point.

Coaching Point: Video the punter, from ground level and behind to see if he is finishing properly. Also, this reveals shoulder position in relationship to the “aiming line”.  Always use a poly spot or towel to mark the block spot for a visual reference.

Here is a recap of the contact points of emphasis:

1. Approach:
• Allow the punter to use the steps that he is comfortable with, keeping in mind the get off time (less than 2.0 seconds) and the block spot (deeper than 10 yards behind the LOS).
• Keep your body in an athletic position, with the body quiet throughout the approach steps.
• Catch the snap, and then begin the approach steps in a straight line, using normal stride lengths.

2. Foot-to-ball:
• Contact the middle part of the underbelly of the ball with the meaty part of the punting foot.
• Point the toe, similar to a ballet dancer, creating a flat surface along the foot from the toe through the ankle and up the shin. Make contact with the ball along this flat surface.
• Keep the shoulders square to the punting line; i.e., directly down the aiming line – middle, right or left.

3. Leg Swing:
• On the plant step flex and cock the punting leg behind the buttock, (punting leg side) as the non-punting foot hits the ground; i.e., step two in a 2-step approach and step three in a 3-step approach.
• Swing the leg in a straight path, before, during and after making contact with the ball.
• Use a slight lean backward which is created by the plant step and return the shoulder to a vertical position as the leg swings forward making contact with it fully extended.

 

About the Author of this post:

Jerry Campbell has over 30 years of high school and college coaching experience. He has experience as a head coach, offensive coordinator, and various position coaches. He has written numerous football coaching articles in various publications, is the author of over 30 books on coaching football, and has produced 12 coaching video series. Additionally, he is a nationally sought after speaker on the coaching clinic circuit.

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