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AFM Magazine

Drills Report: The Wall Punt Return

by: Randy Awrey
Head Coach, Concordia University (Chicago)
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The Wall Punt Return is easy to install and can vastly improve your team’s return yardage. We make a commitment to our special teams. Five days a week we hold a special teams period in which all of our coaches are expected to coach one aspect of that specialty. Each special team unit is then broken down by position where each coach can work on developing player fundamentals and techniques needed to be successful on that particular special team.

General Rules of the Wall Punt Return:

1.  Everyone must stay on sides, line up and always look like you are going to rush the punter.

2.  Ends must always pressure the punter and force him to kick in a hurry. Coaches must stress that the punter can never be touched – Respect the punter.

3.  Always block above the waist and in front.

4.  All returns start at the point that the ball is caught.

5.  Stay away from any bouncing football. Be alert for “POISON” calls, meaning get away from the ball.

6.  Returners must catch the ball.

7.  When punts are kicked into the end zone, returners use the 10-yard line rule – put your heels on the 10-yard line and call for a fair catch for all kicks in front of you while you let anything behind you hit the ground and roll into the end zone. If the ball is going over your head, do not fake the fair catch, just move away from where the ball will land and make it look like you are trying to catch it. Then you can pick off the first man down making it harder for him to down the ball in the field of play.

Philosophy That Makes the Wall Punt Return Work

1.  You must think of the punt return as the first offensive play on that series. Our first goal is to always SCORE and our second is to get a FIRST DOWN (at least a 10 yard return). This will put the offense in a better scoring position by shortening the field.

2.  The single most important factor in having a successful punt return is the unified belief from all coaches and players that it will succeed. All coaches must get involved in coaching a part of it in order to show how important it is to your players.

3.  Every man on the return team must give his all and make it happen. They must take pride in being a part of this special team.

4.  Out-sprint the coverage! Coaches must commit the faster players to the punt return. We will replace the DL (T-N-T) and a returner in most cases for faster, quicker players.

5.  All defensive players will learn the Wall Punt Return. Doing this gives you the option of keeping your defense in the game on fourth down or sub-in a true “special team.”  This also will allow you to practice the Wall Punt Returns as a part of your defensive conditioning. We never do conditioning drills just to run and get in shape. We believe in using every minute on the field to teach and coach. We will line up our defense and do wall returns vs air and get a lot of conditioning accomplished while teaching some aspect of special teams.

6.  Stem your players. Moving around before the snap to confuse the protection scheme will set up your punt blocks for later in the game. Once you teach the return you may allow the players to move on their own, but they must be in a good position at the snap of the ball.

7.  Study your opponent for keys. Does the snapper have a hitch? Does he flex his hands? What does the personal protector do before the snap? Listen and know the cadence. Listen for audibles that indicate which way the center might block.

8.  Focus on the back tip of the football - move on the snap.

Building the Wall Techniques and Assignments

Stud and Will ($ and W)

They line-up outside the widest guy on the line of scrimmage and rush the punter. Do not let the punter outside of you on a fake. Once the ball is kicked peel to the side of the wall and join the wall becoming the last two men in the wall. You will make the last block to spring the return for a score.

Corner (C return side)

If the gunner is tight, you will set the wall. You will backpedal at the snap and drop back looking for a fake. Once the ball is kicked, you will become the first man setting the wall. Set-up between the returner and the sidelines at an angle, 5 yards away, allowing the returner to get to the sidelines.

If gunner is split out wide you will play the gunner man to man and force the gunner to the middle of the field by taking away his outside.

Sam Linebacker (S)

Alignment should be head up on the offensive guard. Before the snap of the ball, backpedal away to a 5-yard depth looking for a fake once the play begins. If the gunner is tight when the ball is kicked, turn and become #2 in the wall. You will be 4 x 4 off the corner, angling toward the sidelines.

If the gunner is wide you become the wall setter. Set up on the returner at an angle 5 yards away, toward the sidelines.

Sam Tackle (T strong side)

Alignment is an outside shade of the offensive tackle. At the snap of ball, push him to the inside and release to the wall side. Follow the Sam linebacker and set up 4 x 4 off him toward the sidelines. Look to the inside and block anyone who comes between you and the Sam Linebacker.

Nose Tackle (N)

Alignment is head up on the center. Catch the center as he is releasing to make him release away from the return. Join the wall and follow the Sam Tackle to a position 4 x 4 off of him toward the sidelines. Block anyone on the inside between you and the Sam tackle.

Mac Tackle (T weak side)

Line up on the inside of the offensive tackle and make him release to the outside, away from the return – join the wall. Follow the nose and set-up 4 x 4 off of him toward the sidelines. Block anyone on the inside between you and the Nose tackle.

Mac Linebacker (M)

Alignment is head up on the guard. Just before the snap, backpedal to a 5-yard depth always looking for a fake. Be about five yards deep at the snap. Once the ball is kicked, sprint across the field and become the kick out blocker. If the gunner is wide you will be the #2 kick-out man. If the gunner is tight you will be the #1 kick-out man. Do not block until you have cleared through the wall. Your block is any opponent who has leaked though the wall. Block the opponent out toward the sideline and try to run him out of bounds.

Corner (C backside)

If gunner is tight, you will be the #1 kick out blocker. Backpedal at snap and drop back looking for a fake. Once the ball is kicked you will become the first man though the wall. Do not block until you have cleared through the wall. Your block is any opponent who has leaked though the wall. Block opponent out toward the sideline.

If gunner is split out wide, you will play the gunner man-to-man and force the gunner to the outside. Keep him away from the return using an inside technique.

Safety (SS)

Alignment is 15 yards off the center in a normal stance. Always look for a fake. Once the ball is kicked, set-up in front of the returner and protect the catch. Block the first man who will prevent the returner from getting to the wall. The safety does not handle any kicks. If the returner calls “Poison”, get away from ball, repeat the poison call and point to the ball.

Returner (R)

Catch the ball. Once secured in wall side arm, find the wall. Cut to the outside of the first block, than cut inside of the kick out blocks and up the sidelines. Always use the one bounce rule – If the ball is going to hit the ground in front of you, position yourself for the perfect bounce. If the ball hits the ground and bounces so you can handle it, catch it and run straight upfield taking all you can get. If the ball bounces more than one time or you question if you can catch the ball easily, than yell “Poison” and point to the ball and get away.

Included are two diagrams to illustrate the Wall Punt Return – vs. Tight Gunners (Diagram 1) and vs. Wide Gunners (Diagram 2).


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