Special Teams Approach from different coaches from around the country.
Some notes on Special Teams Play from various coaches. I hope it stimulates your thinking to come up with some ideas that will improve your team’s play in the kicking game.
The approach to coaching special teams is taken very seriously and our best athletes participate when possible. I have never had the pleasure of having a staff of 8 coaches … splitting responsibilities will be interesting (We have a staff of 3).
Kick-Off Return is the first special team we work on from day 1. We look for athletes with good hands, the ability to see the field, and run fast / tough. We have two returners on kick-off return. Next we look for – four tough guys who like to hit people and create our wedge. The final stage is the front five who can move and block players on the run. We cross the front five and return it down the middle. I would break down the assignments in the following way … 1) Have my Wide Receiver’s Coach work with the returners. Learning how to catch the ball and avoid tacklers. 2) Have my offensive line man work with the four guys on the wedge. Teaching them to stay together and target defenders to block for the returner. 3) have my RB’s coach help my five guys dropping, crossing, and blocking.
Kick – Off Team – Looking for the fastest, fearless, most discipline, and best open field tacklers we have. I would have my defensive backs and line backers coach working together on this group. They have the most experience in running down field and covering opponents, breaking down, and make the tackle. Plus, when we practice each group has a set of coaches working with them.
PAT / FG falls on the shoulder of the Offensive Coordinator / O-Line Coach assisting. (O-line takes responsibility on game day) We will utilize our biggest and strongest line-man and TE for the line. Our two best hands guys would play the TE and wing back on the right side for a fake and be able to catch the ball. Our holder we call COOL HAND LUKE … will always make a great catch and place the ball without pressure. Be able to through the ball on the run for a fake or fire call.
Goal line / PAT-FG Block / Punt Block goes to my Defensive Coordinator / D – line Coach assisting. (D-line takes responsibility on game day) Normally we use our standard defensive players with a few adjustments. On PAT/FG we will only block from one side or up the middle, never both edges. We do not want them colliding in the middle and taking each other out. The other side looks for fake or a scramble. This depends on the holders throwing hand or the kickers kicking leg. We scout for weaknesses in the o-line to go up the middle.
Punt Team falls on the shoulders of the Head Coach. Makes the call on 4th down and knows what he wants during the game. Being the head coach and using option football as part of our scheme I don’t always punt when I need to. We used a spread punt formation most of the time. If we are backed up inside our 10 we go to a close down formation by bringing the WR’s in like TE and moving the wings back 5 yards and making a small wall in front of the punter. In the spread we want to put pressure on the returner by bracketing the returner with both WR’s and having the center cover and put pressure in front of his face. Everyone else fills the lanes. If he ounces right we have three defenders to corral him or the same to the left and leaving two as safeties the QB and the Punter. Our QB is always left in … we always show a fake punt and look to see if the defensive will adjust. The QB has a green light for a fake inside our own 40, but he has to be certain.
We review special teams every day. Mondays we plan for 30 to 40 minutes on special teams. We cover KOR – KO with every possible option. Then go over punt team. Part of our pre-practice routine is for centers to work with punters and PAT/FG holders. We spend five minutes a day on timing for the FG kicker-holder-snapper and the long snapper – punters. Once they have it down we add three to four rushers to add the distraction. We cover punt return on defensive days -PAT / FG everyday as part of our two minute offensive session. I strongly believe that special teams can win or lose a game. We have a record of returning three KO in one game and that was the difference in the game. Both offensive and defensive teams were pretty even. Opening KO went for a TD and both times the opponent score the KO went for a TD. They never kicked to the same guy twice. We lost a game because of special teams … due to injuries in the week and during the game we had to many substitutes in KO and the opponent returned it once and again on Punt.
I’m aggressive on special teamS … we want the ball to open up the game hence we first teach KOR. That is how important it is to us. We want to set the tone quickly. If we face a stud KO Returner we will kick it out of bounce and give it to them on the 35. Take his thunder away and the special team because they didn’t get a chance to hit someone and establish their dominance. It flusters a team who wants to run the ball down your throat. We teach our KO kicker to drop the ball on the 0 yard line (on the #’s) with a little back English. We have found that most returners stand on the 10 by a hash mark and the middle guys are between the 20 to the 30 and run to their assignment, and forget to look for the ball. If the ball drops on the 20 about 8 yards away from the side line we can send our two fast guys and maybe get there to recover the ball before the team has time to react. We use to onside kick a lot with a wedge before rules changes and then we switched to the sideline bounce for onside kicks. One year we recovered 80% of the attempts.
Special teams is 1/3 of the game.
Example Approach and Philosophy Towards Special Teams
The kicking game is a key piece to any successful football team and one that is generally neglected because of time constraints. While offense and defense do deserve a larger amount of time, having sound special teams can be the difference in many games. I think that for many programs the lack of time devoted to special teams, fewer coaches involved, and the players who play on the special teams, result in players feeling they are not as important. It is critical to change these mindsets by the way we approach the behaviors that send this message.
I believe the first step to having a solid kicking game is to make sure to factor in unwavering time to the special teams in each practice. This time Period does not have to be extremely long but it must be in practice every day and not a period you cut down because of time constraints. Players will immediately recognize that it is built into the practice just like any other period and this sends a message of its importance.
The next step is to get ALL your coaches involved. I have been a part of many high school programs where one coordinator runs all the special teams while other coaches stand around. I have also seen coaches each be responsible for one but yet the others still stand around. This sends a negative message about the importance of special teams. I believe that splitting up the special teams is the best way to do it. Each coach should be responsible for one or two phases of the kicking game. This coach is responsible to break down opponent film and have a weekly plan for that portion of the special teams. This coach is then responsible to coach up the other coaches. This way during practice the coach leads the period but all the other coaches are watching players and coaching them up. It also allows you split up and do some special teams individual work early in the year. Players will once again see every coach involved and value the importance of the period.
It is also important to have one coach who is responsible on game day to gather all the special teams. Having one go to person on that day avoids any confusion and guarantees all the correct players are out on the field. If you want to label this person the coordinator you could do this and even give him extra film breakdown responsibilities. The reason we break up the special teams is many times it fits in with another phase of the game. For example our punt return is directly linked to the defense and is far easier for the DC to run and implement so it matches the flow of what we do defensively. The same could be said for punt and the OC. The key of it all is to have every coach involved so each player is getting coached up during the period.
Finally, many teams put all their backups on special teams and players immediately lack the desire to want to play on them. The special teams needs to be presented as a privilege and something every player should want to be a part of. Putting the best possible players on special teams sends a message that we will win the special teams battle but it also get other players wanting to compete for the spots. One thing that we did last year was to call our kickoff team the “hit squad”. We had tryouts for the hit squad and made it seem like the most prestigious position ever. The players who were on the starting hit squad got dog tags that said hit squad on them. We even made a special presentation when they got their dog tags. We were the best we have ever been on kickoff and had kids begging to be on it. In one game our kickoff team forced 3 turnovers and essentially won the game for us.
This type of effort and desire needs to be transferred to all the special teams. Spending time on them in practice, making every coach involved, and making players compete to be on them sends a message and makes your special teams better than most.
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.