By Chris Fore, Special Teams Coordinator, Sultana High School (CA)
Hidden yardage can be the difference between winning and losing. Find out how Coach Fore's squad double their Punt Return yards with this simple adjustment.
By Chris Fore
Special Teams Coordinator
Sultana High School (CA)
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Punt return is a critical play when it comes to stealing yards in a football game. In 2014, we improved our average start from the 34.48 yard line to the 45.05 yard line, an increase of 31%! We returned three punts for touchdowns, up from just one in the previous season. We increased our average return per punt from just 5.5 yards to 19.38 yards, the best punt return average in the state of California, and in the top 10 in the nation. The following year we found similar games at a different school Sultana High School (a new school), where we increased punt return yards per attempt from 7.25 to 14.66.
Think about that difference. We DOUBLED our punt return yards every time we touched the ball. (Meanwhile we cut our opponent’s punt return average from 15.8 to 2.3!) Our average start after punts was the 35.03 yard line, 6 yards better than 2014. We cut our opponent’s average start after punts from the 37 to the 26.09 yard line, a difference of an entire first down! So, add our improvement of 7.41 yards per punt plus taking away 10.91 yards per punt from our opponent, and we improved our field position by 18.32 yards during the punting game.
The traditional pro style punt, two gunners who are out wide, 2 wings, 5 linemen, personal protector, punt is my absolute favorite scheme to see on film before we play a team. Why? Because I’ve got what I think is a great Punt Return to gain some dynamite yards.
There are strengths and weaknesses with every single football play. I think that the Pro Style punt is the absolute worst way to punt the football. Usually, there are only three players (the gunners and the long snapper) heading down the field at the snap of the ball to tackle the returner. The other eight players are a part of the kicking process, with seven of them blocking for the kicker. So, you have two pretty fast players running down to tackle the ball carrier, and usually a lumbering long snapper. That is the strength of this punt: the gunners. It’s very difficult to keep these gunners from getting to your ball carrier. It is hard to ask one player to go backwards while also blocking somebody who is going full speed forwards.
So, we don’t! We double team the gunners. Let me show you how I like to attack the pro style punt scheme.
In the second week of our 2015 season, we faced one of the absolute best punters I've ever seen in 15 years of coaching this great game. Better yet was how fast his gunners got down field. The week before we played them, they had just HUGE change of field position plays every time they punted. In fact, through 4 punts in week 1, he averaged 46 yards per punt.
My favorite thing to do as a Special Teams Coordinator, outside of game night, is to analyze film in order to put together a game plan. I always ask: how can we line up against this play, and have success? Against this specific team, with their gunners, I knew that we had to double team them to have a chance.
The results were drastic. We cut their Net Punt Yard Average from 46 yards per punt t0 20.66 yard per punt! We cut their punt average in half, and then some and, more importantly, we won 26-17.
Here is what we drew up for our opponent, in order to double the gunners. We drew it up both left (Louie) and right (Ralph)
Defensive Line Responsibilities:
All Defensive Linemen will line up just a shade to the right of the man who they are responsible for blocking. They will get inside leverage on the Offensive Linemen and use the same technique described above for the Right OLB (20).
Additional Notes on Coaching Special Teams:
I’ve been a Special Teams Coordinator for 12 years. I love it! For 8 of those years, I was also the Head Coach. I thought of Special Teams being important enough as part of my philosophy to make myself the STC. This has really helped the programs I’ve supervised to understand the importance of Special Teams.
I’m also one of those “outside the box” type of thinkers. I get bored with doing the same thing, just like everyone else. I’m always trying to think of different ways to “steal yards” from my opponents through Special Teams. I want to put our offense in to the BEST position possible with my return units. We want to steal as many yards as possible every single time we catch a kick.
I’m a big believer in documenting every kick of the season. The best Special Teams Coordinators will spend time making sure that their stats are accurate, just like you would for the offense or defense. The most important Special Teams statistics, in my opinion, are the average start categories. We want our average start after punts and average start after kickoffs to be better than our opponents. Obviously, the way that your offense and defense are playing are going to effect the average starts after punts.
Due to my teaching position being eliminated at the end of the 2014-15 school year, I’ve actually had the opportunity to coach at two different high schools in the last two seasons. One program was league champion and didn’t lose a league game, and one program didn’t win a league game, yet we had tremendous improvement in both programs. In both years, we improved on at least 16 of 18 categories. What led to this success was incredible attention to detail.
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- The assignments and responsibilities of the corner in this punt return concept.
- The assignments and responsibilities of the outside linebackers in this punt return concept.
- The assignments and responsibilities of the safeties in this punt return concept.
- The assignments and responsibilities of the mike linebacker in this punt return concept.
- BONUS: Watch game film of this concept.
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I hope that you can see that this man scheme Punt Return and double teaming the gunners is a great way to steal yards. As long as you do a great job getting your kids reps with this return during the week, so that they know and feel where to go, you will get some great returns using this man scheme.
Meet Coach Fore: Coach Fore has been coaching football for 15 years. He specializes on the Special Teams side of the football. Fore operates ShieldPunt.com, has written several books to help coaches: Shield Punt and Kicking Game Returns. He has also written Building Championship Caliber Football Programs. Fore owns Eight Laces Consulting, which specializes in helping coaches at the high school and college level with their job search.
During the 2015 season at Sultana High School, we increased punt return yards per attempt from 7.25 to 14.66! Think about that difference. We DOUBLED our punt return yards every time we touched the ball. (Meanwhile we cut our opponent’s punt return average from 15.8 to 2.3!) Our average start after punts was the 35.03 yard line, 6 yards better than 2014. We cut our opponent’s average start after punts from the 37 to the 26.09 yard line, a difference of an entire first down! So, add our improvement of 7.41 yards per punt plus taking away 10.91 yards per punt from our opponent, and we improved our field position by 18.32 yards during the punting game. That’s a drastic change!