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Advanced Spread Punt Team Drills

by: Tony Kehl
Special Teams Coach Sacramento City College
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After more than four decades of coaching, I have been exposed to a lot of great information from many outstanding coaches. I have taken ideas and concepts from each source and adapted them to what we do now at Sacramento City College. We are always open to new ideas in our efforts to keep improving. Here are our thoughts on the most critical play in football, the punt, and how we teach its execution.

To convey the importance of the punt team, make sure our players understand that a large amount of yardage will be involved and that, along with a change of ball possession, there will be an attempt by the opponent to score. We sell our players on the belief that the result of the punt play will have a positive or negative effect on the momentum of the game. The execution of the punt play can be the difference between winning and losing.

The success of the punt team starts with timing. Our long snappers and punters work every day to develop the precision and consistency required to be successful. We want the snap to take 0.7 or 0.8 seconds. The in-hand time (from reception of the ball, until the ball leaves the punter’s foot) should be between 1.2 and 1.3 seconds for a total time of 1.9 to 2.1 seconds. Anything over 2.1 seconds runs a high risk of being blocked. We want a hang time greater than 4.2 seconds and our coverage time between 4.2 and 4.5 seconds. Our punter’s heels are at 15-yards from the front tip of the ball and we want the kicking foot to split the crotch of the long snapper. Our punter uses a two-step approach. We time this process twice a week during the season. We want to take a positive and simple approach with the punt team so we have established only one goal for this unit - to net 38 yards every time we are forced to punt.

We use a spread punt formation and these are our alignments and splits (See Diagram 1). 

Diagram 1.

1) Long snappers – Set on the ball.

2) Guards –
    •  6” split from the snapper.
    •  Inside toe is on the snapper’s heel.
    •  Outside toe is no deeper than the heel of the inside foot.

3) Tackles –
    • 12-18” split from the guard.
    • Inside toe is on the snapper’s heel.
    • Outside toe is no deeper than the heel of the inside foot.

4) Wings –
    • Inside foot is on the same line as the tackle’s outside foot at arm
    length from the tackles hip.
    • The outside toe is no deeper than the heel of the inside foot.

5) Gunners – Split Rules
• If the ball is in the middle, between the hashes, the gunner aligns on     the numbers.
• If the ball is on the hash, the gunner to the boundary side aligns at the bottom of the numbers. The gunner to the wide side splits the difference between the number and the hash.

6) Personal Protector – Heels 5-yards from the front tip of the football,
directly behind the guard.
    •  Stances – All players
    •  All players take a 2-point stance immediately at the line of scrimmage.
    •  Guards, tackles and wings have hands on thigh boards, head up, back         is arched, feet shoulder width apart and able to see the ball.
        •  Gunners have outside foot back and in a wide receiver stance.

Zone Protection

The personal protector will call the front and the side of the long snappers protection responsibility. He must be patient and see if his “A” gap responsibility is threatened. If there is no threat, he will check to help any stress points.

The long snapper will get depth and turn to his “A” gap responsibility and punch aggressively with both hands. If there is no immediate threat, look for a blitzer.

The guards will kick-slide straight back with the outside foot and slide step with the inside foot. They must stay square to the line of scrimmage and get straight back. As they kick-slide, they must post the inside hand to help the long snapper versus a strong “A” gap rush. The guards are responsible for the “B” gap. Typically, they will take three kick-steps before they execute their block. At this point, they will open their hips and step at the defender in the “B” gap and punch aggressively with both hands through the defender. They should try to stone the defender and get him to stop his feet before he releases into coverage. They must never open up early and allow penetration.

The tackles use the exact same techniques except they are responsible for blocking any defender attacking the “C” gap.

The wings use the exact same techniques as the guards and tackles except they are responsible for blocking any defender attacking the “D” gap.


Kick-Slide and Finish vs. Air (See Diagram 2)

Diagram 2.

Coaching Points
    •  Stance
        •  Kick-slide technique
        •  Punch and release
        •  Stay square to LOS

Line Drill (See Diagram 3)

Diagram 3.

Coaching Points
     •  Start together, stay together and finish together
     •  Stance
     •  Kick-slide technique
     •  Punch and release
     •  Stay square to LOS

Board Drill (See Diagram 4)

Diagram 4. Board Drill

Coaching Points
    •  Stance
    •  Kick-slide technique
    •  Retreat straight back
    •  Punch and finish

Zone Protection Drill vs. Air Bags
– e.g., fronts and stunts (See Diagrams 5-7)

Diagram 5. 2 on 2

Diagram 6. 3 on 3

Diagram 7. 4 on 4

We also work against overloads. An example of a common problem with the overload is when the opponent aligns three defenders outside the tackles alignment. The personal protector will identify the direction of the overload. The long snapper will now block the gap to the overload side, the guard, tackle and wing will execute their normal assignment and the personal protector will block the unblocked rusher.

Overload Drill (See Diagrams 8 and 9)

Diagrams 8 and 9.

Coaching Points

•   The personal protector steps forward with his inside foot and scans with his eyes inside/out and blocks the unblocked rusher.

•   On the overload side, the long snapper, guard, tackle, and wing will all use their normal techniques.

The short side of the overload usually presents four situations that we must be prepared to deal with.

Gap Call (See Diagram 10)

Diagram 10.

•  The guard must alert the tackle that he is going to protect inside to the “A” gap.

•  The Tackle must know where his threat is, in the “B” or “C” gap.

 Gap Call (See Diagram 11)

Diagram 11.

•  The Wing will always protect the “D” gap.

Outside Call (See Diagram 12)

Diagram 12.

• The outside call by the guard alerts the tackle and the wing that they are protecting the “B”, “C”, and “D” gaps.

Stack Call (See Diagram 13)

Diagram 13.

The “stack call” alerts the tackle and guard to handle the inside threat first and the outside threat second.

Once the execution of the snap, the protection, and the punt are completed, we must now concern ourselves with covering the punt to ensure our success in achieving our goal of netting 38 yards.

The first thing we work on is our release. We must work to get off any hold up and release to the outside and sprint full speed for 20 yards to get on top of the blockers. At this point we start to adjust our coverage to the ball. The position of the returner will give you an idea where the ball is. The coverage must never follow your own color. We want the coverage players to stay in their lanes and keep the ball in front and inside of their inside shoulder.

Inside and In-Front Drill (See Diagram 14)

Diagam 14.

When the coverage breaks down at of a depth of 5 yards, the returner will try to beat the two coverage players to the outside or split them. The coverage keeps the returner inside and in front, then fit tackles to end the drill.

Coverage Drill for Gunners (See Diagram 15)

Diagram 15.

 Coaching Points

•  Teach gunners to beat the hold up by using a rip technique through the bag holder and then seeing where the returner is located and taking the proper angle to the ball carrier.

Punt Coverage Assignments (See Diagram 16)

Diagram 16.

Gunners – Fastest release and cover straight to the ball. Maintain outside leverage. Take a shot at making the big hit on the returner; if you miss, at least disrupt the returner and coverage will make the play.

Long snapper – Release after execution of your protection. Go directly to the ball and take a shot at making the tackle. Do not slow down. We want you to disrupt the returner.

Punter – Try to make the returner run to catch the ball so that he cannot locate the gunner. You now must stay on top of the ball and be like a free safety.

Personal Protector – Cover the ball and mirror the return man; play like an inside linebacker.

Guards – Release and maintain a line 5 yards outside of the ball and stay square. Keep the ball on your inside shoulder and in front of you. Fill to the ball.

Tackles – Release outside for width and maintain a ten yard lane outside of the ball. Stay square and force the ball back inside. Never allow the ball outside of you.

Wings – Release and trail the tackle and guard. You will become the ‘hole’ player. If the ball goes inside, fold inside. If the ball goes outside, scrape at an angle to cut the returner off.

Coverage Drills

Fan to Cones vs. Air and vs. Hold Up Drill
(See Diagram 17)

Diagram 17.

Coaching Point:

•  Teach coverage to widen across field and then adjust to the ball. Cones are set at 15 yards. We do this vs. air first and then we add hold up players to the drill. We also move the ball between the hashes.

Full Speed Protection and Coverage Drill
(See Diagram 18)

Diagram 18.

Coaching Point:

•  Teach proper lanes and how to adjust to the ball. Also teach effort and habit by working full speed to the ball.

Finally, we teach angle tackling, open field tackling, and stripping every day in practice with all our defensive players. We never tackle live in our coverage drills. We want our coverage to gang tackle with the intent to force a turnover. Players that can run and are aggressive are prime candidates for this unit. We will use the best players possible including starters because we believe the punt is the most important play in the game.

About the Author: Tony Kehl, the Linebackers Coach and Special Teams Coordinator at Sacramento City College, has over 40 years of coaching experience on the high school and college level. He previously was the head coach at two California high schools – Petaluma and Hogan – and also coached at the University of Nevada, Sonoma State, and Santa Rosa Junior College.


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