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Zach Watkins, Co-Defensive Coordinator/Special Teams Coordinator/Linebackers, Washburn University (KS)

In 2016, Washburn U. finished 1st in the MIAA and 9th in NCAA Division II in Net Punting with a 38.3 avg. net/punt while only allowing 2.5 yards per return on 62 punt attempts and 0 blocked punts. Find out the drills behind that success here...


Zach Watkins
Co-Defensive Coordinator/Special Teams Coordinator/Linebackers
Washburn University (KS)
Twitter: @Zach_Watkins

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watkinsOur coaching staff here at Washburn University believes that special teams can win or lose you two games in a season. This belief held true for us in the 2016 season. It might be a missed extra point, kickoff return TD, or the kickoff team pinning the opponent deep in their own territory, but each unit has a responsibility to the team to win their play and help win the game. As I always tell our special teams units, “field position is the purpose of special teams.” No unit has a greater task of flipping field position in our favor than the punt team. 

The PRIDE Unit

We call our punt unit “Pride.” We use this term to stress to our team how important this unit is. Our staff calls it “the most important play in football.” “Pride” is also a part of our special teams’ mantra that we say before each meeting. 

We are a shield punt team.  We use the shield for three basic reasons:

  1. Ease of teaching/understanding the scheme
  2. The ability to plug guys in from week to week because of injury/playing time, etc.
  3. Most importantly, provides the most effective coverage.

Base Coverage

We will utilize different formations/shifts/motions, directional kicks, rugby style roll out, and other wrinkles from week to week, but our base coverage and drills will stay the same. All of our coverage drills for special teams fit in well with what we want to teach on defense. By doing this, we can keep terminology the same across all areas of coverage, tackling, and leverage, which has translated well for our players.


In Diagram 1, our base coverage is shown. We have tweaked scheme from year to year to fit our personnel, but this has been our most consistently effective coverage. Ends (E) are our speed guys (WRs/DBs) whose only job in coverage is to get to the returner as fast as possible. Their job, along with the Snapper (S), is to take a shot and make the returner go east and west. The E’s are taught to aim for the returner’s near shoulder, while the S is taught to go right down the returner’s middle. Everybody besides the E’s and S have one base principle in coverage which we apply across all coverage teams and to our defense; “KEEP THE BALL INSIDE AND IN FRONT!” If the ball is inside of you and in front you, we will make the tackle. 

We teach the Guards (G) and Tackles (T) to have specific leverage rules. G’s have 15x2 rule and T’s have 15x5 rule. This means that when they are 15 yards and closer to the returner, they must be leveraged 2 and 5 yards respectively to their side of the returner. The Left Shield (LS), Middle Shield (MS), and Right Shield (RS) are second level contain players. As with any coverage team, we want to create levels to ensure we can still make the play if a front line player loses their leverage. The LS and RS will keep the ball inside and in front of them, while inserting between the G and T to their side. The MS will stack directly over the ball as he covers downfield.  The Punter (P) will always be our true safety and will stack the returner.

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  • Coaching points and film of the Net Drill that Coach Watkins uses to teach leverage in coverage lanes.
  • Coaching points and film of the Shimmy Drill that Coach Watkins uses to teach the “inside and in front” mentality to cover defenders.
  • Coaching points and film of the Trail/Widen/Pickup Drill that Coach Watkins uses to teach coverage based off specific punt returns.
  • Coaching points and film of the Pride/Wolfpack Drill that Coach Watkins uses to stimulate competition at the line of scrimmage for punt situations.
  • Coaching points and film of the Goal Line Locate Drill that Coach Watkins uses to teach players to locate the ball in “coffin corner” kicks.

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Field position is the purpose of special teams. No other unit on the team has as important a job to flip the field position than the punt team. Being great in this area is absolutely vital to our success. Our focus is to win our team 2 games each season with great special teams play and our pride team is the most important.


Meet Coach Watkins: Zach Watkins just completed his 6th year of coaching.  He was named the Co-Defensive Coordinator/Special Teams Coordinator/Safeties coach at Washburn University in 2014, before making the move to Co-DC/STC/Linebackers in 2015-present. From 2011-2013 he was an assistant coach at Fort Hays State where he was Special Teams Coordinator, coaching the defensive line for two seasons and the inside linebackers for one. Watkins spent one season as a graduate assistant at Northwest Missouri State coaching linebackers prior to joining the Tiger coaching staff. He has coached 14 Ichabods to all-MIAA honors.



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