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Secret Weapon: Turning your Punt Team into an Offensive Weapon

by: Tim Rucks
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It is a pleasure and honor to be asked to represent Carthage College by contributing to American Football Monthly. Our staff at Carthage looks forward to this magazine and all the fine coaches who submit ideas and philosophy on a monthly basis.

At Carthage we have had a very unique and increasingly productive punt formation that has not only been a solid punt formation but an offensive weapon. This year our “spread punt” produced the following results:

A. A first-team All-CCIW punter (Donovan Moore) who averaged 40 yards a punt and had 22 of his 56 punts downed inside the 20. Of the 22, nine were inside the five-yard line.

B. He also was successful on nine of thirteen punt fakes, running for 120 yards and completing one of three passes.

C. Moore finished 14th in the country in punting but more importantly our punt team net was 7th nationally at 35.6 yards a punt.

The base formation looks like this (See Diagram 1):


The linemen’s splits are two and a half feet in an up position with hands on the knees, back bowed and head up with his eyes looking outside.

The number one receiver aligns on the ball and splits the difference between the numbers and the sideline with the ball in the middle of the field and with the ball on the far hash, he aligns two feet inside the numbers. If the ball is on the near hash, he is two yards from the sidelines.

The number two receiver aligns off the ball, splitting the difference between the number one and number three receiver.

The number three receiver aligns six yards outside the tackle, off the ball.

The X is on top of the numbers and on the ball.

The punter is seven yards behind the line of scrimmage and behind the call-side (always the three-receiver side) guard.

The fullback aligns in a tight wing position opposite the call side.


After the punter sets the unit, the fullback goes in shuffle-motion to the call-side and he will block the widest rusher.

The line will all slide-shuffle two steps to the call-side and they will be responsible for blocking their outside gap. They are responsible for anything from their nose to the nose of the next linemen to the call side. The backside tackle will turn and hinge after his two slide-shuffles if there is no one to block. If the ball is punted they all go directly to the ball.

The number one receiver will run a curl at three yards past the first down marker. If the ball is punted, he has contain and must keep everything in front and inside of him.

The number two receiver runs a streak and if the ball is punted runs directly to the ball.

The number three receiver runs an out at the first down marker. If the ball is punted, he must work back to the hash and be inside contain, keeping everything between the hash and the sideline and in front of him.

The X runs a deep post and if the ball is punted must contain the football. The assignments look like this (See Diagram 2.):

The punter takes a minimum of two steps to the call-side and has the option of punting the ball, throwing a pass or running with the ball himself. The line cannot release until they hear the ball punted as it could be a fake. The receivers run their routes and if they see the ball is punted they have to hurry to their coverage lanes. Obviously, the routes can be changed by game-plan or how a team chooses to defend the call side.

We do have a call in which the punter has to punt the ball and in that case there are no routes run and the receivers sprint in their coverage lanes and the line releases after punching through the outside shoulder of the defender:

Obviously, this punt has dangers in coverage aspects and to run the spread punt the punter cannot punt the ball down the middle of the field. We tell him it has to go between the numbers and the sideline and punting the ball out of bounds is not such a bad thing.

Punt Fakes
The key to the success of the punt is that if you show you will run fakes anywhere and anytime on the field, teams gameplan to stop the fakes and you don’t get a hard punt rush. In fact, many teams just leave their defense on the field.

We have several fakes and motions and the possibilities are limitless. The key to the fakes is to get as many people involved in them so that the defense feels they have to defend several people. This is what limits your rush.

We have a fake where the punter will rush either way. He has the freedom to pick his side or it can be called. This is usually good in man coverage. Everyone else just does their normal assignments as if the ball was going to be a called punt. We will also call for our punter to run the middle if we think the inside is vulnerable and our front line will simply block with “base-blocking” principles.

We also have a fake where the fullback chip-blocks the wide rusher and then runs an arrow to the marker. We also can run a bubble screen to the single receiver and we’ll also formation to make the tackle to the single receiver side eligible and run pass routes to him.

The obvious key to the whole thing is the punter. He has to be able to run,, throw and punt and he must be able to make a quick decision and be blessed with great natural instinct. He must be a person you can trust. In 75 percent of our punt plays, he has the option of throwing, running or punting.

Our four wipeouts are all offensive players. At Carthage, wipeouts are very tough mentally, like physical play and take pride in their punt coverage. They must have the speed to out-run both man and zone coverage to cover the ball.

The fullback must be big and strong enough, and agile enough to block a wide end and also be enough of an athlete to be a legitimate pass threat.

Our linemen are linebacker types who must be strong enough and smart enough to block all the different alignments we see and with enough speed to get down the field on punt coverage. I believe the hardest position is the center position because we are asking him to snap the ball and also step and block a wide gap. We will help him out by cutting the split down to the call side or even helping him out with the guard, depending on the front.

There is so much more detail and possibilities for the punt but space constraints will not allow me. It is a fun punt to run, the kids like it but more important it is a great way to minimize rush and also act as an offensive play.

About the author

Tim Rucks

Tim Rucks has been head coach of the Carthage College Redmen for 11 years and was named an AFCA North Region Coach of the Year in 2004. The Redmen completed an 11-2 season that fall and reached the quarterfinals of the Division III Championship. From 1990-1994, Rucks was the Head Coach at North Park University. A native of Waukegan, IL, Rucks played four years of football at Carthage as an offensive tackle and signed with the New York Jets as a free agent. He played with the Jets during the 1983 season.

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