Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Make Your Special Teams “Special!”

Posted by admin June - 30 - 2020 - Tuesday

This blog is not about the X’s and O’s of coaching football. So, when I write about the Kicking Game/Special Teams, I will not talk about the execution of your special teams. However, I do want to emphasize that it is important to make your special teams “special.” Let me explain…

A coach and I were talking yesterday about his upcoming season. Apparently things are going well in his state and he feels that they will be playing football there this fall. We were talking Delaware Wing T when he stated… “and Coach, I realize now that I’ve got to spend more time on the Kicking Game. I’ve done a poor job on that phase the last few years and it’s hurt us.”

My response was, “Suppose I can show you a way to get more out of your Special Teams (make them “special!”) but not have to spend more practice time doing it. Would that interest you?”

His reply was an emphatic “yes!”

The easiest way to do this is for you to go to the Championship Productions catalog and purchase the dvd that I did for them on Special Teams! But… I’m not here to “sell” you something except for the idea that if you are not being as efficient in your kicking game as you’d like, I have some ideas that I think will be of interest and value to you.

I’ve always liked being innovative and, even more, unconventional in my approach to coaching football. It’s why I became sold on the Delaware Wing T offense. It’s why our defense initiated Split-field coverages when nobody else around even knew what they were! We didn’t always have the greatest athletes on the field but… we had the hardest-working and mentally-toughest kids that you’d ever face on a given Friday night. Why? Why did I like to be unconventional in my approach? Because I was always looking for an advantage. Legal and fair (though some opposing coaches would scream “unfair!” when we snuck one in on them in the kicking game.) ***For example: how many of you know that you can attempt a field goal after fair catching a kick? Yep! I got that one from Vince Lombardi years ago! We beat a team by kicking a field goal from their 35 after fair catching their punt from their end zone!

That advantage that I was looking for was both physical and psychological. If we could “get into their heads,” I knew we could gain the upper hand. When you utilize an unconventional approach to your Special Teams, you too can gain that advantage.

A couple of keys… then if you have questions or want more info, please email be at coac...@gmail.com and I’ll be glad to help. These keys are the basis for our kicking game.

1- Practice 2 phases of the kicking game every day. We chose to work on Punt and Kick-off on Monday’s and Wednesday’s— cuz I felt that these were the teams that create the biggest change of field position and momentum. Then, we’d kick 3 PAT’s and 3 Field Goals every day. Tuesday was Kick-off Return and Punt Return plus PAT/FG’s. On Thursdays, we review ALL kicking teams. ***I want to add: make Special Teams your FIRST period in your practice schedule! You want to send the message of how important your Special Teams are. You do that by making them a priority in practice.

2- Install ONE play for each kicking team! You don’t have time (we didn’t!) to devote 30-40 minutes on special teams each day. We alleviated that problem by, for example, having 1 Kick-off Return; 1 Punt Return; 1 Kick-off… etc. By the 3rd or 4th game, the players knew their assignments so well that it just became a matter of review. We were unconventional in, for example, how we kicked off. We would onside kick if I felt we had it available but… more than likely we were going to “hit a pitching wedge” to an area of the field that the Kick-off Return team did not have sufficient coverage. Our kicker was really good at dropping his pop up (sky ball) where we needed it… much like a golfer hitting a wedge shot on the green near the flag! People did not properly prepare for this and there were numerous games where we recovered at least one of our “pooch” kicks.

3- Get your “key” back-up’s on the field. When a player knows he’s going to play on Friday, his motivation and attention levels increase. We wanted to get as many back-ups on the field for the kicking teams as we could— without “hurting” the team. That’s why I used the term “key” back-up. Guys who you can count on but maybe are young or just not as good as the guy ahead of them at his offensive or defensive position. Now… that does not mean that we never used starters on Special Teams. We almost always had our starting RB’s deep on Kick-off Return. I used our best Wide Receiver to return (or should I say “catch”) the punts! There was more than one game (big game) that our whole starting defense was the Kick-off Team! But, in normal situations, we would have no problem starting a back-up on our kicking teams.

Marv Levy of the Buffalo Bills fame was my first college coach. His influence is what motivated me to emphasize the kicking game. Levy said, “more BIG plays happen in the kicking game than any of the 3 phases of football.” Lou Holtz also coached me in college (his first HC job was at William and Mary in 1969) and he too was a stickler for Special Teams execution. I love his quote that he shared with us: “A close game between 2 evenly matched teams will likely come down to a mistake in the kicking game.” Think: “Kick 6— Bama vs. Auburn! or the bobbled/flubbed catch of the punt snap for Michigan vs. Michigan State a few years ago! You can gain an advantage by utilizing an “unconventional” approach to your kicking game. Make your Special Team Special!!!

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