AFM RSS Feed Follow Us on Twitter       

   User Name    Password 
      Password Help

Article Categories

AFM Magazine

AFM Magazine

Human Shield: The shield punt formation maximizes protection and coverage.

by: Aaron Johnson
Running Backs Coach • Wofford College
© More from this issue

Click for Printer Friendly Version          

Protection is the most critical piece to a punt unit’s success. In pre-season camp, protection is the first area that is addressed. It is emphasized in every meeting, film session, and drill period, because there are few occurrences more deflating to a team than a blocked punt. The shield formation itself creates advantages, because it lengthens rush lanes and handicaps angles for the defense. The three-man shield, when executed properly, serves as a deflector for the block point that eliminates interior pressure. Every member of the unit is responsible in protecting, except the snapper. The guards, tackles, and ends are responsible for a man or a zone.

In a man scheme, there is a count system that is used. It works from outside in, starting with one. Each side will get a number from the shield, communicating the total threats to that side of the formation. Based on that number, the end will start the sequence. The tackle will follow and finish with the guard. The front line must know how to protect against a three, four, five, and six-man rush. Once all members on the front line have identified their responsibility, the three-man shield locates the interior threat. The punter is responsible for operating in a time that eliminates exterior threats (Diagrams 1 and 2).

Diagram 1: Shield Punt Alignment - Horizontal & Vertical Spacing

Diagram 2: Various Rushes


It is exactly what it says. The front line has to initially exit the line of scrimmage in an attempt to cover the field’s entirety, with their eyes on the returner. There are landmarks that each member must know. Again, the width of the formation aligns the punt team in a better position to cover the field. Everyone is separated to allow for a better release, and they are easily dispersed to their landmarks.

These landmarks, however, are initial and adjustable. Coverage will deviate from these landmarks depending on the returner. The returner will nearly always assist the coverage in locating the ball, because he has to field the ball or motion his teammates out of the way. The shield will announce the direction of the kick, and they will make a “dummy” call when the returner acts as a decoy. As the certainty of lanes and awareness of the ball’s location diminish, there are two rules that provide structure to coverage: (1) never follow the same colored jersey, and (2) keep the ball inside and in front. By practicing these concepts, the cover unit will naturally separate and maintain proper leverage. Once the returner commits to a field side, the end away from the return will fold and find a lane to the ball. The tackle away from the call is now responsible for containing any cutback return to the field (Diagrams 3, 4 and 5).

Diagram 3: Kicking from middle of the field

Diagram 4: Kicking from hash

Diagram 5: Return Declared

As with any offense or defense, there are schemes that can be problematic for the shield punt. When they are used, the return unit often compromises the integrity of its defense. It is necessary to have a fake punt readily available for these types of situations. There are a variety of possibilities in scheming a fake punt. The important thing is to keep it simple, and always have a purpose for each. The threat of a fake punt will ensure the return operates within the parameters of the shield punt rules.

Identifying personnel presents challenges of its own. By keeping the bigger athletes (FB/LB/TE) closest to the ball and the skill players to the outside (RB/CB/S), the best eleven athletes are on the field doing things they are capable of and good at. The shield consists of the biggest bodies on the unit (OL/DL/TE), but they must also possess the athleticism to cover or execute a fake. Eligible numbers need to be in mind for these positions, as well.


The scheme of a punt is only as good as it’s execution. Proper execution is ensured by repeating techniques in drills that closely resemble a game setting. We try to create drills that represent portions of the play’s entirety, and make it competitive (Diagrams 6A, 6B and 7). The scout team must give maximum effort to simulate the speed of execution needed. With protection simulation in one drill, and coverage in another, we do not fully drill live reps of a punt until the third week of pre-season camp. The style of progressive teaching has proven to effectively teach our players the shield punt. Once the players have fundamental knowledge of the base concepts, weekly adjustments and scheme changes are simple to install. Whether it is a rugby punt, unbalanced formation, or directional kick, the shield punt is flexible to the needs of a coach. But, more so, it puts the players in a position that is conducive for success.

Diagram 6A: Outside Rusher

Diagram 6B: Inside Rusher

Diagram 7: 2 on 1 Leverage Drill

About the author: A former four-year letterman at halfback for Wofford College, Aaron Johnson joined the WC staff in February, 2008. He serves as both running backs coach and recruiting coordinator. A 2006 graduate, Johnson spent two years in private business before joining the Wofford staff.

Coach Johnson answers your questions on Facebook - just go to

Articles on this subject are at
Develop Your Dynamic Identity – June, 2013
Preparing Your Punt Teams – October, 2012
Point-Counterpoint: Punting vs. Blocking the Punt – December, 2005


AFM Videos Streaming Memberships Now Available Digital Download - 304 Pages of Football Forms for the Winning Coach


Copyright 2024,
All Rights Reserved