Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Getting 11 On The Field!

Posted by admin March - 14 - 2017 - Tuesday

It seemed like such a simple thing. We were in a tight ball game with our big rival and it was midway through the 4th quarter. Our defense held them in their own territory— 4th and 4. All we had to do was let them punt it and we should take over around the 50 yard line.

We yelled for the Punt Return team to hustle onto the field. We set up our normal strategy: rush from one side and set a wall to the other. Just as the punter was calling for the snap, I noticed one of our players rushing onto the field late— apparently having missed the call for the Punt Return team! He was on our side of the ball so no need to flag him for being off-side. The play continued, the ball was snapped, the punter fumbled the ball, grabbed it and our pressure forced a “Charlie Brown” punt— straight up! We scrambled out of the way and when the play was whistled dead, we had the ball on their 35 yard line!!! What a break. It was then that I saw the flag back behind our return men!!! What???
The officials conferred and marked off 5 yards against us— illegal participation; i.e., too many men on the field! What???!!! I immediately yelled for all of our players to freeze. I called the ref over and asked him to RE-count our players. We had 11. He and the Umpire counted, then conferred (again) and said, “Coach, sorry! One of your guys could’ve snuck off the field while we were conferring.” I said, “But, we started with 10 and the 11th was the one who ran on late!” “No, Coach… that was the 12th guy.” I was furious! At the officials… at the player… but mostly at myself. Why? Cuz I’d given the responsibility of getting our Kicking Teams on the field to an assistant coach who was (how can I put it nicely) “not into the game mentally!” I let him know that I would be doing Special Teams from now on.

By the way, they kept the ball and ran the clock down and we lost that very important game. It was at that point that I decided that I would need to be the one to “direct traffic” during games and be sure that the proper people are on the field.

The kicking game is a critical component for any team. You’ve probably heard me say: “In a close game between 2 evenly-matched teams… it usually comes down to a play in the kicking game that determines the outcome.” (Think Michigan/Michigan State 2 years ago with Michigan only needing to punt the ball away and lock up the win!!! Oops!!!) Sooooooooo… what was my remedy for this situation with being sure that the right people are on the field when it’s time to kick?

I like those sideline mats that have 11 bubbles on them. Each player stands on a bubble to be sure you have all 11 before you send them on the field. We couldn’t afford that luxury so I found other ways to be sure that we always have the right guys and the right number on the field for any particular special team.

First off, we practiced 1- being called up on the sideline. This happens on 3rd down when we’re punting and/or when the other team is likely to be punting. When it is time for our Punt or Punt Return or PAT (*NOTE: the teams that will go on the field during “live-ball” situations) to go on the field, I extend my arm straight up and wave it in a circle and start yelling: “Punt Team!!!” or whichever team we want to go on. Everybody sees my extended arm/signal and knows that they better “wake up and pay attention!” There are times when we will go for it on 4th down or we want to keep our defense on the field instead of sending out the Punt Return team. All the more important to have that signal so everyone is tuned in.

The other thing I would recommend that coaches do occurs on game day. Before the Specialists go on the field to begin pre-game warmups, we have a Special Team check. Each Special Team is called out and we count to be sure we have 11. We give them some quick instructions and call up the next team. We even call up all of our different personnel from the different packages on Offense and then, finally, call up our starting Defense. I give our Defensive Coordinator his chance for some final instructions and a moment to “fire up the guys” then… the Specialists head for the field and the linemen go back into the locker room.

Finally, during pregame warm ups… we team flex and then do Individual period for both Offense and Defense. Before we go to Team Offense and Defense, I place a ball at the 1 foot line and we call out the Punt Team. They line up in “Tight Punt” since we’ll be punting out of our own end zone. We kick it and cover. The Punt Team then “pooch punts” from the 38 yard line (coming in) and our “gunners” try to down the ball inside the 10. The next team we call out is PAT/FG and they get 3 kicks. At that point, we go to Team Defense for 5-7 minutes and finish up with 5-7 minutes of Team Offense.

I might also add that on Monday through Wednesday practice days, the first period we have after Team Flex is: Kicking Game. I want to put in our players’ heads how important special teams are. I think by doing kicking game first each day in practice, it sends the message.

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