Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Make Your Special Teams “Special”

Posted by admin August - 21 - 2020 - Friday

Have you ever wondered why the call them “Special” teams?? Where did that name come from??!!! The reason I say this is because far too many times over the years, the teams that we went against were anything but special when it came to their Special Teams!!!

You’ve probably heard the adage that the “kicking game is 1/3 of the game.” I believe it to be true; however, how many of you spend 1/3 of your practice time on your kicking game? Not many, I bet! I will admit that we did not either. We did spend a LOT of time in preseason practices getting every kicking team installed; but, once the season began we only spent about 20 minutes on Special Teams during a 2 hour and 20 minute practice. Yet, our kicking game was almost always superior in performance during games. Why was this? Two reasons:

  • We put a high priority on Special Teams… and the players knew it! The first segment of practice each day was the Kicking Game. Putting it first showed the team that we were not going to overlook it. Yep! It was that important. Also, we were not opposed to playing starters (on Offense and/or Defense) on our kicking teams. We let our back-up’s know that they could play a lot of ball and even earn their Varsity letter by contributing to our Special Teams but… it was not going to be “given” to them. They would have to show by their hustle, aggressiveness and positive attitude that they deserved the chance to to play on our Special Teams. Why? Cuz we wanted our Special Teams to be “special!” If a back-up was the starter on, say, our Kick-off team, then the defensive starter would be the back-up on the Kickoff team. There were games where we would insert the defensive starter on the kickoff… just because it was an important; i.e., playoff, game. We also sent our starting Running Backs deep on Kickoff Return. For 2 seasons, we had 2 future NFL players as the deep returners on our Kickoff Return team! Yep! It was that important!
  • The second reason that our Special Teams were “special” is because we did things a bit differently (uniquely) than most teams. You’ve read of the team in (is it) Missouri that only On-side kicks their kickoffs? Kinda crazy huh? Wellllllllllllll…. he “stole” that idea from us!!! (Just kidding!) But, we were “onside” kicking everything as early as 2001. Our concept was not a true “onside” kick but rather a “sky” kick to the opposite 30 yard line on the numbers. What we wanted was a “pitching wedge” golf shot. Accuracy was critical… as was hang time! We wanted our opponent to have to fair catch all kickoffs. That put the ball on their 30 yard line with NO chance for them breaking it long. We had one hard and fast rule on our kickoffs: Do NOT kick the ball deep down the middle of the field! It’s a recipe for disaster. The best part of our “sky” kicks is (as previously mentioned) people did not properly prepare for it. There were many games that we recovered a kickoff (or two!) simply because our opponent’s return men stood there and watched the ball bounce…. thinking it was like a punt. We’d dive on it and always loved to see the official direct his arm towards our opponent’s goal line! “First down!!!”

Not only did we do things differently, we only did them one way! We had one Kickoff Return. We had one way that we punted. Our Punt Return team did it one way! We rarely faked because we did not have time to work on it. By doing things one way, we could get a LOT of reps in each day in practice. The players knew how we did it and we never changed things. You’d be surprised how many reps you can get in 7-8 minutes by doing your kicking team only one way!!! Plus, doing it this way, we got realllllllllllllly good at it. For example, our goal was to return at least 1 kick-off back to (at least) the 50 yard line. Our Kickoff Return team was disappointed if we didn’t return one for a TD each week. We got so efficient with our Kickoff Return that people stopped kicking deep! We got great field position and didn’t have to set up our Wedge/Middle Return.

A coach whom I worked for years ago was famous for saying: “What you emphasize, you will achieve.” True…. to a certain extent! You can emphasize something (D End “wrong-shouldering a kickout block, for example) but if you’re not teaching it in a way that a player can excel at it, you’ve wasted your time. It’s why I came up with the adage that “PROPER Preparation Prevents Poor Performance!” Work hard on your execution in your kicking game and you will see results. Lou Holtz was known to say that “In a close game between two evenly-matched teams, it’s probably going to come down to a play or two in the Kicking Game that’s going to determine who wins.” Think: Auburn’s “Kick Six” against Alabama or Michigan’s punter “whiffing” on that last-second punt and Michigan State recovering for the winning TD! Just 2 examples of how Coach Holtz’s adage proved to be true.

Spend the time it takes to truly make your Special Teams “special!!!”

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