Coach Cook explains how his punt system has allowed them to keep drives moving and completely eliminate returns in the punt game. Find out how here...
By Ron Cook
Red Springs High School (NC)
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Our approach to punting is to put as much pressure as possible on the opposing coaching staff in 4th down situations. We want to force their defense to be diligent, sound, and disciplined in spending practice time on special teams or risk giving up a 1st down at a crucial moment in the game. We force opposing coaches to decide if possibly getting yards on a punt return is worth the risk of possibly giving up a 1st down.
Special Teams Philosophy
As a player, I liked to be aggressive in everything I did and as a coach that mindset has not changed for me. Having spent time as a player at Virginia Tech (1997-2000), I learned a great deal of how to be aggressive and technically sound on special teams thanks to Coach Beamer. At Red Springs, we are just as serious and focused on our special teams helping us win games as we are on offense and defense. The kicking game is the part of the game where you can completely change the momentum of a game and steal wins.
For us, all of our “Special” units have unique names to emphasize their importance and to instill pride in our players who have the privilege of being a part of each unit. Our punt unit is named Spider. This unit is a “special” offense that can attack the opposition in eight or more ways instead of just conceding to the defense on 4th down.
The Spider formation utilizes the width of the field and forces our opponents to cover gaps and be sound in their alignment. This, in turn, forces teams to dedicate practice time to being in good positions to cover all of our fakes. In doing so, they must decide if they want to take a chance with having a returner deep or trying to block the kick if we do punt.
If and when we punt, we always directional kick towards the right sideline of the side of the punter’s kicking leg. The punter taking two quick steps to get the ball off as fast as possible (Diagram 2). The punter is told to keep the ball between the numbers and the sideline and away from the hash. We’re ok with the ball going out of bounds on a good kick. Our punters practice kicking the ball with a high line drive by focusing on making contact right at or below the knee. We are not concerned with hang time as traditional punt teams are, because our opponents are so focused on making sure we do not convert on a possible fake that they do not have a return set up. We focus on getting that line drive to hit the ground rolling and that’s where we steal yards in field position.
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If you are serious about winning football games then you must be serious about making special teams a big part of your normal practice plan. We begin practicing Spider on the first day of spring practice in May and all throughout the summer. In 2014, our first year running Spider, we were close to 60% on converting 4th downs. In 2015, we were nowhere near that number as we attempted less fakes and teams were more prepared having all 11 defenders within 5yds of the ball. We only converted 14% of our fakes, but in turn averaged just over 31yds per punt with ZERO returns. What we lost this season in 4th down conversions we gained in field position with two punts over 40yds, and eight punts over 30yds uncontested by a returner.
Overall we are still in the early stages of development with our spider formation with new plays and execution improving on a game by game, season by season basis. This concept forces opponents to spend extra time in practice preparing and putting enough fear in teams to not even want to risk having a returner deep. I even had an opponent tell one of my assistants that his team spent 20 minutes of practice time every day practicing how to defend the Spider formation and making sure their players were lined up correctly.
Meet Coach Cook: Ron Cook just finished his 14th season coaching and 2nd year as a head coach. In all 14 seasons, Cook has been involved with supervising and calling all or half of special teams units. Coach Cook spent 6 years coaching college football with 5 years at the division II level and 1 year at division III Montclair State University. He also spent 4 years at American International College as Co-Special teams coordinator (punt return/KOR) and 1year at Kentucky State as Co-Special teams coordinator (punt return/KO).