By Ryan Turnbull, Special Teams Coordinator/DFO/Defensive Backs Coach, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)
RPI places a premium on special teams play, its most recent product is current Miami Dolphins place kicker Andrew Franks. The coaching staff organizes a full-field, 15-minute drill work progression for a two-day period where every facet of special teams play is drilled in a timely fashion. Since the implementation of this model, the Red Hawks are averaging nearly 22 yards per kick return, and 10 yards per punt return. The punt block unit has produced three safeties while blocking two punts as well. In this exclusive clinic report, special teams coordinator Ryan Turnbull provides the drill work and coaching points behind this progression.
By Ryan Turnbull
Special Teams Coordinator/DFO/Defensive Backs Coach
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)
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Through very detailed drill work, STUD/STUD 2.0 allows the special teams unit to work on multiple facets of pursuit/return based special teams drills simultaneously. Players must hone in mentally on the specific coaching points that are being relayed. In addition, coaches must provide detailed and thorough direction towards the specific coaching points that will be practiced. Both players and coaches must respect spacing on the field of other drills to ensure full efficiency of STUD/STUD 2.0.
The drills contained are meant to be detailed, specific, and work on three concepts at most at a time. These drills are open to variation and discussion within a staff. Other drills practicing the same or equally important concepts are encouraged to be considered through discussion.
The first 7 minutes of STUD will consist of the avoid and leverage drill, step and hold drill, snap catch and step drill, and kickoffs/kickoff returns (Diagram 1). The last 7 minutes will consist of speed in space, field goals and punt/punt returns (Diagram 2). At least one coach, if not two, will be assigned to work with each group and coaches are specific to the drill (i.e. o-line coach works with PAT/FG).
Avoid and Leverage Drill: The areas this drill will target are acceleration, athleticism in a short window, and leveraging the football during pursuit. Players must accelerate to the first obstacle then “rip and stack” through that obstacle. Next, they will accelerate to the second obstacle followed by a break down and leverage. The coach will break down the drill in parts as he sees fit (Diagram 3).
Step and Hold Drill: The areas this drill will target are strong steps with simultaneous punch by the OL on PAT/FG. The first part of the progression starts with cadence; the line will step strong and hold together until the release. During the last part of the progression, a coach will have two players bring in step over dummies and all five players will deliver a punch and step on cadence.
Snap Catch Step Drill: This drill focuses on timing, stretching, and snaps for both the punters and long snappers. We want the ball off in 2.0 seconds from snap to kick. From snapper to punter, it should take no longer than 0.7 seconds.
Kickoffs and Kick Returns: Kickers will alternate kicking deep right and left. Ball placement should be as deep and as close to the numbers as possible, if not in the end zone. Kick returners must secure the ball and advance at least 20 yards in a full sprint.
Speed in Space Drill: The areas this drill will target are acceleration, athleticism in the open field, and leveraging the football during pursuit. Players must accelerate for at least 15 yards. The coach will give a visual cue indicating where the return has deployed. All players must, without breaking stride, cut and regain good leverage on the returner (Diagram 4).
Field Goals: Field positioning for this drill will work in tandem with the punting section. Kickers will first start by alternating from left hash to left middle, progressing further and further in distance. They will then go from right hash to right middle progressing closer and closer in distance.
Punt and Punt Returns: Field positioning for this drill will work in tandem with the field goal teams. While FG is working the left hash, punting will work outside the right sideline and kick to the near hash. They will then switch as FG does the same. We want the ball off in 2.0 seconds from snap to kick. From snapper to punter, it should take no longer than 0.7 seconds. Returners are responsible for securing the football and progressing 20 yards in full sprint.
During our next practice when we are installing our Punt Return and Kick Return, we will use STUD 2.0, which specifies return based drills (Diagram 5). We will take 15 minutes and utilize the keep away drill, step and hold drill, snap catch and step drill, FG height drill, mirror drill and wall drill. Again, at least one if not two coaches will run each drill based on specific special teams units.
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In conclusion, through our STUD & STUD 2.0 training we have been able to implement all of our Special Teams goals for every unit. We try to create an identity for special teams and look at special teams as a privilege unit that athletes want to be on. Our scheme is communicated each day to the players through the coaches that are involved in each special teams unit. Each staff member is always on the same page and they are coaching each special team’s position specific to the unit. We take pride in special teams and express the importance of it to each player noting that special teams play is 1/3 of each game and can be critical in our success at RPI.
Meet Coach Ryan Turnbull:
A native of Ballston Lake, New York, Turnbull joined the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute football staff in August 2014. In his first season with the Engineers, his team intercepted 19 passes with 209 return yards in 2014. RPI also had 42 pass breakups and two All-Liberty League defensive backs that season (Nick Borkowski & Philip Lanieri III).
Turnbull serves as the Special Teams Coordinator/ DFO/ Defensive Backs Coach at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. As an assistant coach, he is responsible for planning coverages for defensive practice, the breakdown of all opposing teams’ offensive film, coordinating punt, punt return, kickoff, and kickoff return, and calling offensive personnel on game days. In addition to carrying out the daily operations of RPI’s defense and special teams, he spends a great deal of time recruiting high school athletes across the United States, as well as supervising freshman athletes during mandatory study hours.
Prior to coming to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Turnbull spent one season at Hudson Valley Community College as the Defensive Coordinator and Recruiting Coordinator, three seasons within the Greenwich Central School District as the Varsity Football Defensive Coordinator.
RPI 2015 graduate and former RPI kicker Andrew Franks is now the starting kicker for the Miami Dolphins of the National Football League. RPI is currently tied for the Liberty League lead in kickoff coverage and punt coverage. We are averaging almost 22 yards per kick return, while having an 84 yard kickoff return for a touchdown and almost 10 yards per punt return. Our punt block unit has produced three safeties while blocking two punts. Our kicker is currently 35/36 on PAT’s this season.