By Dan McKenna, Special Teams Coordinator, Anna Maria College (MA)
Rugby punts are one of our top requests every offseason. Here is a unique approach that you can put in for your team time summer.
By Dan McKenna
Special Teams Coordinator
Anna Maria College (MA)
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Punt is the most important play in football. The number of players guaranteed to handle the ball and the exchange of possession and field position is what makes punt the most important play. The rugby punt is a great way to add simple variety to any punt formation. At AMC this past season, we had a lot of success working in the rugby technique with our existing scheme. We used the rugby through the combination of existing and new formations, making our punt scheme unique and multiple.
Before completely adopting this concept, we wanted to know exactly what we would be gaining and losing by going to the Rugby punt. Here is a list of pros and cons:
- Block point changes
- Rushers must alter their path to the block point.
- The distance between the block point and the backside to A-gap rushers increases.
- Reduces stress on protection
- Frontline can take a more aggressive approach and attack rushers moving laterally/forward, instead of having to protect moving backward in their steps. (Bucket step VS. Kick slide)
- Allows coverage to release/get downfield easier
- Keeps attention on punter/in backfield.
- The longer the punter can cradle the ball, the more the coverage can close to the returner.
- Limits block and return schemes
- Being able to punt from the pocket and rugby in any situation creates difficulty to match block and return schemes with each punt.
- Creates problems for returner
- Difficult to read and field a rugby kick because of the limited hang time and roll. This can create turnovers due to an unpredictable bounce of the ball.
- Returner is often forced to let ball roll or fair catch.
- Can increase ball security issues
- The punter has a greater chance of mishandling the ball on a rugby punt because of the movement involved in his steps, not looking the ball in (catch and mold) and executing a clean drop while on the move.
- Punter’s mechanics
- Drop and point of contact need to be emphasized more in practice to stay consistent with the rugby movement. Punter mechanics can get sloppy when punter is focused on moving.
- Can create seams and an open front-side edge rush if the protection’s steps are not executed correctly and in good relation with the punter’s rugby steps.
As with almost any aspect of football, it is critical to know your personnel! When considering adding the rugby technique, the focus should be solely on the punter. Some punters are strictly “pocket punters” that are most productive punting the traditional way. Fit the scheme to the punter to maximize his strengths.
Here are a few things we evaluate when determining if the rugby technique fits the punter:
Ball security – Does the punter consistently catch and mold the football to his body, especially as he takes his lateral steps. Ball security can be a bigger issue in a rugby punt if the punter is too focused on getting out of the pocket and reading the rush instead of looking the ball in and focusing on hand placement and drop.
Other Important Elements when Considering the Rugby Punt:
Specialist Operation – The operation between snapper and punter is obviously critical. If the snap is inconsistent, being low, high or to the side of the punter’s body away from the rugby movement, it can throw off the timing of the play and force the punter to shorten and adjust his steps right away. Having a snapper that is able to lead the punter into the snap so the punter’s technique can be executed more efficiently is a great asset. (Snap, catch and 1st step are all 1 motion)
Personal Protectors – We mainly work out of a 2-protector formation system. Protector depth is heels at 6 yards off the LOS. The front side (right) protector, steps laterally, flat down the line to protect the punt foot side (“Step with the punter”). The protector must step laterally without gaining depth in his steps so he does not get too close to the punter’s operation. The left (backside) protector does not move out as quickly. He is basically gap-seal-hinging, opening his outside (left) foot at a 45 degree angle, keeping his right foot pointed to the snapper, reading the rush and working from left A-gap to B-gap. If he is not rushed from those gaps, he can shuffle laterally with a 3-4 yard relation to the right protector.
Incorporating the Rugby Technique with Multiple Formations:
The identity of our punt team over the past two years has been based around being able to use a variety of formations for any situation we may be in, whether it be backed up, midfield or a pin deep. Our punt team’s technique and assignments are consistent, clear and simple so we can operate out of multiple formations. The punt team must be able to I.D. fronts, protect and cast a sound coverage net working out of many formations with different alignments.
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- The rugby step technique that Coach McKenna uses to train the punter to get the ball released quickly and efficiently.
- The entire protection scheme of the rugby punt including the aiming points of the frontline protection in handling A and B gap penetration.
- The three formations (including shifts and motions) that Coach McKenna uses in his rugby punt scheme and the advantages each one possesses.
- The three read keys he will use to incorporates a pre-snap rugby check at the line of scrimmage.
- Plus game film on all these concepts.
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I hope the information I have provided portrays a sound, unique, simple and effective punt scheme that can be useful on all levels, from High School to the FBS. I want to thank X&O Labs for letting a young coach like myself contribute to their valued and respected website. I look forward to talking ball with you all in the near future.
Meet Coach McKenna: Dan McKenna has been a part of the Anna Maria Football team since the start of the program in 2009. Dan played for the Amcats for four years and joined the coaching staff as Defensive Backs Coach and Special Teams Assistant in 2013. Dan has been the Special Teams Coordinator for the past 2 seasons.
Key Statistics: The Amcats had a tremendous season on Special Teams. The Anna Maria Punt team finished 2nd in the conference with a 35.9 yard per Punt average and has not allowed a Punt Return for a touchdown in Coach McKenna’s 2 seasons as S.T. Coordinator. This past season, Punter Stefano Marziale led the Conference with a 37.1 yard net average, punting 59 times for a league-best 2,118 yards. Marziale was voted to the ECFC All-Conference 2nd Team in the 2015 season, after receiving 1st team All-Conference Punting honors in 2014.