Building Winning Special Teams with Core Principles – Part III


Building Winning Special Teams with Core Principles – Part III

By Mike Cieri, Defensive Line and Special Teams Coordinator

Montclair State University

On Tuesday, during the Special Period in-season, we use that time to develop the punt pressure scheme and master the individual skills need in a period called ‘Pod’. This time slot is divided into formation recognition and live action into order to build the coordination between players and the scheme. The team portion of this drill is utilized to simulate game day situations. A scout team is assembled based on the opponent’s alignment. The scout team is instructed to use the opponent’s blocking scheme and techniques for escape and coverage. The drill is broken down into 3 segments (stingers and swatters, last 2 outside players outside of the interior, and the rest of the players from the interior). Both the left and right sides of each group go together. Using a pre-determined script, the coach signals one group to go. On the center’s snap of the ball, the selected pod grouping springs into action according to the scheme and both units execute their proper techniques. A return or a block scheme can be performed using this drill. The punter kicks and the returner catches the football & reads the coverage, finding his running lane (tunnel) while moving the ball up field.

Building the core for special teams starts in pre-season practice. It is the time to develop the concepts, techniques and basic schemes toward wining the hidden yardage. We attempt to do this by utilizing a circuit drill methodology that emphasizes repetition, maximizing the time for skill development, have our players see and feel the ‘real time’ one on one match-up, move and react with appropriate techniques, holding the players accountable and develop a large special teams player pool. This article will provide our circuit training for kickoff coverage, kickoff return and punt block and return. As far as punt is concerned, there are many different punt formations and types of formations.

Our Kickoff Coverage will be working on three core principles. The first principle is to ‘avoid’. If the returner is further than 15 yards from the defender then the defender is ‘Out of Phase’. If you are out of phase you will avoid the block and get back into your coverage lane. The second principle is ‘2-gap’. If the defender is within 15 yards of the returner, the defender is considered ‘In-Phase’. Now the defender blows up the blocker & uses a 2 gap attack. The defender should never run around the blocker but play over the top. The third is tackling. We work on shoulder tackling using hawk, hawk roll and profile tackling techniques. Coaches and players are divided equally for this 4 station circuit. Each drill is explained in the previous day’s walk-thru and/or nightly meeting.

Once the basic skills have been introduced and we are in full pads, we utilized the “Chaos” drill to stimulate the 3 core principles. ‘Chaos’ brings the real time, one on one match that allows players to see and feel game day movement and react with appropriate techniques accordingly. We also use this drill to select players worthy to be on the kickoff coverage team.

There are two core principles for kickoff return. They are sprint and shimmy block. Here we divide the players in two groups (front line and back line). Returners are not considered part of this group and are working on their own skills at this time. Since kickoff return requires more specific skills the front of the kickoff return is made up of players who can sprint, set up downfield and sustain a block. They are usually defensive backs, larger wide receivers, outside linebackers. The back lines are usually larger players such as tight ends, inside linebackers and fullbacks. They will develop the same two core principles using the same drills with modifications. The sprint drill works on get off, finding the flight of the ball and getting into position to establish the shimmy box.

The shimmy block technique helps develop the footwork and hand play after the shimmy box is established. The technique is similar to an offensive lineman pass protecting with the footwork like a hockey goalie coming out to cut-off the angle. The blocker is attempted to cover 65% of the defender’s body on the play side.

Once sprint and shimmy block have been introduced and we are in full pads, we utilize the “Speed to Power” drill to have the players see and feel game day movement and react with appropriate techniques accordingly with the one on one match-up. We also use this drill to select players worthy to be on the kickoff return team.

Punt pressure consists of 2 core principles. The first principle is Shock which is divided in block techniques and hold up techniques. The second principle is called ‘mirror’ which would be the sprint downfield, fitting to block and executing the block.

Station #1: Shock (Block)

Get Off & Run the Hoop

Maintain Low Pad Level & Balance

Explode to the Block Point

Execute Proper Block Technique

Flawlessly Scoop & Score

The center snaps the ball and a rusher explodes off the line of scrimmage from a modified sprinter stance. Having great get-off is one of the key attributes to being a block specialist. Another player stands two and half yards off the ball inside a standard hula hoop holding a hand shield while on the outside of the hoop 1 yard away in a foam roller creating a track for the rusher. As the rusher approaches, the shield-holder lightly pushes the shield down on the rushers shoulder and back. The rusher must keep his shoulder pads under the shield, plant his outside foot straight up-field, dip and rip, stay bent, point inside and explode to the punter. The hula hoop and foam roller helps keep the footwork tight to the body. Another method is using an open linemen’s chute to keep the rusher low. The punter will hold the ball out at the block point for the rusher. The rusher will accelerate to the ball using proper hand placement when they get to the ball. At the ball the hands will be crossed over and will push the ball down. Two rushers from each side do the drill simultaneously with the non-designated rusher as the scoop and score. After the ball is batted down, the scoop & score player recovers the ball and sprints up-field.

Another advanced drill to teach punt pressure players the proper approach to block a kick based on the punter’s foot and block point from various get – off positions is ‘Run the Hoop’. Place 4 hula hoops and space them out according to the alignment of the punt unit. On the snap of the ball, one rusher takes-off toward the punter using the proper rush techniques as described in ‘low pad level’ drill. This drill is rapid fire moving down the line. If the punter is right –footed, the outside rushers on both sides and the inside rusher away from the punter’s kicking leg cross over the punter’s leg to block the kick. However, the inside rusher to the kicker’s foot side must get to the block point sideways (i.e., turning parallel to the kicker’s leg) sliding past the kicker to avoid his leg. This drill will teach proper block technique and develop the body balance and hand coordination to prevent any penalties. If it is a left-footed kicker, all components of the drill are opposite.

Station #2: Shock (Hold Up)

Get Off & Maintain Low Pad Level

Drive-Jam on Proper Force

Come to Balance

Seek Returner & Angle Release