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Maximizing Your Kickoff Coverage – Each player must possess a different skill set to ensure effective kickoff coverage.

by: Ron Planz
Special Teams Coach • Minnesota State University, Mankato
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In order to maximize your kickoff coverage, each player must possess a different skill set and be committed to a ‘Want’ philosophy. At Minnesota State University, we take our special teams very seriously. We dedicate significant meeting time and practice to special teams every day. We film both angles of all phases, including when we do individual drill work for a specific unit. Our philosophy for special teams is very basic:
• This is not rest time. This is an opportunity to make a game changing play.
• This is not charity time. Only players with ability to consistently get the job done will play.
•  We will be sound in all areas. Special teams will win us games.

It is extremely important that our players understand our philosophy. All players, even linemen, receive a special teams manual with their respective offensive or defensive playbooks. They must understand what our expectations are, as all players have a chance to be in a special teams situation. Offensive linemen will be on the field for the field goal/extra-point team and defensive linemen may be on the field for punt safe. All players are considered eligible to play on special teams. Most of our special teams units are made up of our starters. Like our philosophy states, “this is not charity time.” We don’t play guys on special teams to keep them happy, we play guys that can help us win.

We consider kickoff coverage to be one the most important special team phases. Our mentality for our kickoff team is all about “Want.” This is a true effort play. The more you “Want” to get down the field and create havoc, the more successful the coverage will be. We refer to this as a defensive play. Our guys understand that the outcome of the play will help determine the potential success of our defensive series. Basically, the farther back we can pin their offense, the greater chance for success we will have on defense.

Our goals for our kickoff team are simple:

1.     Kicking placement is crucial to effective coverage.
2.     Hang time to exceed four seconds.
3.     Force the opponent to start their drive inside the 30-yard line.
4.     Sustain a consistent three-wave formation.

Our first two goals emphasize the kick. It is paramount that our kick goes where we want it to. If we want a deep right kick and it goes right down the middle, our coverage will be less then ideal. Some of the built in fail safes for our scheme make up for poor kick placement, but we would much rather have the desired placement so our guys can adjust their angles. The next goal is that we want to keep the opponent from advancing the ball past their 30-yard line. We feel this is a realistic goal for us to achieve and it gives our guys a concrete goal that is easy for us to determine whether we are successful or not. Goal number four talks about maintaining waves. We utilize what we call a wave philosophy.

1.     It fits up like our 4-3 Cover 2 defense.
2.     We don’t need to have 10 speed guys getting down the field at the same time.
3.     It limits the possibility of seams or creases.
4.     It builds in fail safes if mistakes are made.

    Our scheme fits up just like our 4-3 Cover 2 defense. Our first wave of four players attack  like our DL would. Our second wave of five players consists of three guys that act like linebackers and two guys that act like rolled-up corners. Our third wave has our two safeties, our kicker and our trailer. (Diagram 1).

Diagram 1.

    This diagram shows a 5-by-5 alignment and who is in what wave. The types of the players are:

1.     Outermost Wave 1 players – very fast. DB/WR types that are very     physical.
2.     Innermost Wave 1 players – biggest, fastest players. LB/SS types that     are very physical.
3.     Innermost Wave 2 players – sure tacklers that don’t have to be as fast.         LB/Safety types.
4.     Outermost Wave 2 players – very smart and athletic players.
5.     Third-wave non-kicker – fastest player on the team.

You can also go with a 6 x 4 alignment. In order to get to it, you move your third wave player to the side you want to have the six defenders. And your middle second wave guy flips sides if needed (Diagrams 2 and 3).

Diagram 2.

Diagram 3.

We align all players on the 20-yard line. All players must hit the 30 just as the ball is being kicked. We want a full-speed sprint out of all players for 15 yards. Once they get to our 45-yard line, we begin to form our waves.

Wave #1 coverage responsibilities:

1.     Run straight to the ball carrier. Do not worry about lanes or fits.
2.     Avoid all blockers while maintaining leverage to the football (prior to their 30). Keep the ball on your inside shoulder.
3.     Once inside their 30-yard line, engage and strike all blockers keeping         your outside arm free.
4.     If you encounter any two-man wedges, cross their face and split them.

Wave #2 inside - coverage responsibilities:

1.     Avoid all blockers while maintaining leverage to the football (prior to their 30). Keep the ball on your inside shoulder.
2.     Keep a distance of 5 yards behind the first wave.
3.     Fit off the block destruction by the first wave in front of you.
4.     Track and tackle the ball carrier.

Wave #2 outside - coverage responsibilities:

1.     Constrict the field, No large seams between you and the inside part of         the second wave.    
2.      Keep the ball on your inside shoulder and do not get deeper than the         ball carrier.
2.      Keep a distance of five yards behind the first wave.
3.      Keep everything to your inside and protect the edge.
4.      Track and tackle the ball carrier.

Wave #3 coverage responsibilities:

1.     The kicker will always go opposite of the trailer.
2.      Trail and constrict the play (10 yards from second wave).
3.     Leverage the ball by keeping it on your inside shoulder.
4.     If the returner breaks through, you must make him change direction so pursuit can catch up to him.
5.    Make a play.

You can match any alignment to any kick location. You can line up 5 x 5 and kick it deep right, deep left or deep middle. You can do the same for a 6 x 4 alignment as well. One adjustment that we do make is, if we are going to kick a pop-up kick or a squib kick, we will go down the field in one wave because the kick will be most likely shorter and therefore the time to separate into waves is not there.

Hopefully you can use this to better fit your players’ talents and incorporate a different look to a very important aspect of the game – special teams.

Ron Planz is completing his third season as a member of the Minnesota State-Mankato staff. He serves as both defensive line coach and special teams coordinator. He previously was the defensive coordinator and head strength and conditioning coach at Manchester College. Planz also coached at Wisconsin-Eau Claire and played at Carthage College, 1997-2001.

More Articles on this subject:
December, 2010 • Principles and Philosophy of Kickoff Coverage
February, 2008 – 7 Essentials to


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