Discover how Coach Kent's coverage unit has been able to nearly eliminate returns with their versatile punt coverage.
By Terry Kent
Downers South HS (IL)
Editor’s Note: Coach Kent is a 1974 graduate of Lawrence University in Appleton, WI. Upon graduation, he became the Head Football Coach at Fall River HS in Fall River, WI. Since then he has coached football at Westmont HS, Downers Grove North HS, North Central College, and Downers Grove South HS, winning the first 8A IHSA State Championship in football in 2001. He was inducted into the Illinois High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame in 2010. He is currently the Offensive Coordinator / Running Backs Coach at Downers Grove South and is responsible for the Punt Team.
I have been intrigued by the Shield Punt ever since I first saw it being used in a bowl game several years ago. My first impression was dismay that anyone would want to let the inside rushers run free and blow up the 3 guys standing in the backfield. As more and more teams went to the shield, I started seeing its benefits. Before deciding to implement it, though, I had to be convinced that the advantages outweighed the disadvantages. What finally sold me on the Shield Punt was a Glazier Clinic presentation by Grand Valley State showing that in 2012 they only allowed 3 yards in punt returns. We all know that a punt is one of the greatest weapons a team has in changing field position. This past season we punted 31 times and allowed 12 punt returns for a total of 12 yards! This is the number 1 reason to use the Shield Punt – limiting your opponents return yardage. We also had one punt partially deflected due to poor execution by one of the shields.
The advantages of using the Shield Punt are as follows:
- Long Snapper has NO protection responsibilities.
- Get into coverage faster à No returns!
- Can change block spot if needed.
- Rugby punt limits number of touches by returner.
The disadvantages that I had to work through are:
- Need to teach 3 different punts: Shield, Rugby, Tight
- Shield players aren’t reliable in coverage.
- Operation time must be a 2.0 or better.
The biggest stumbling block for me was teaching 3 different punts, especially a Tight Punt that we would use inside of the 20 yard line. Prior to this year, we had used the traditional double slot punt with zone blocking and we always had trouble teaching our defensive players the concept of zone blocking. One of the plusses of the Shield Punt is that your Punt Team really doesn’t block anyone, allowing us to put our best coverage players on the field. While we practiced the Tight Punt weekly, we never used it in a game.
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The situation that worried me the most in installing the Shield Punt was punting out of our own end zone. I didn’t think that I would be comfortable letting the interior rushers in without having the punter at 14 yards. Three times during the season, we punted out of our own red zone, but used the Shield Punt in each case. Nevertheless, we did practice the Tight Punt every week, just in case.
To go to a tight punt look, we moved both Shields up to the A gap, and reduced everyone’s split to 1 foot. To keep the blocking rules simple, everyone blocked the first man to their outside. This was one time when the snapper could not just snap and go. The Protector would give him a direction (usually left) to tell him which A gap he was responsible for. The Protector took the opposite A gap. The line was told to block until they heard the thud of the kick, and then they could release. Obviously, this hurts our punt coverage, but it was our best approach to getting the kick off. We did change the line’s technique on this, having them take 2 backward shuffle steps and pass block. If my punter was good enough, I would have him directional kick the ball to the near sidelines to limit the effectiveness of any return. We kept the coverage lanes the same for most everyone. The exceptions were the Shields who now joined the snapper in being ball men. The Punter and Protectors were now the Safeties, with each responsible for ½ of the field.
We did not run any fakes this year, feeling the Rugby Punt was our fake. I have seen many different types of fakes ranging from inside running plays, sprint passes, throwback screens. The possible fakes are only limited by your imagination.
We also did not use multiple looks or motion, which we may experiment with some next year as we get more comfortable with the scheme. We are a multiple formation style of offense, so it would not be hard for us to use different alignments.
I think that your punter needs to practice with defenders rushing all around him. This way he concentrates only on the ball and is not distracted by the rushers. It is also very important that the punter stay behind the shield and not step to one side or the other and be susceptible to an outside rusher. Whether we are practicing punt or punt return, we have defenders running at and past the punter to give him plenty of experience punting under duress.
I am a big believer in using the Shield Punt because it limits the hidden return yardage. The Shield Punt also allows to you to get your best defenders on the field as they don’t have to worry too much about blocking, just step, release, and find the ball.