By Chris Fore
Former Head Coach
Capistrano Valley Christian High School (CA)
I love the shield punt! If you ask any of the kids who have ever played for me, or coaches on my staffs what my favorite Special Team is, they will surely tell you "punt!" I really believe that the punt team can have more of an effect on a game than any other Special Team. In the field position game, I don't see that any of the other Special Teams have as dramatic of an impact as the punt team does.
In 2002, the Head Coach I was working for at Linfield Christian put me in charge of the Special Teams. In prepping for that job, I watched every single special teams play from the 2001 season. And this was back in the VCR days! Most of you know what that was like! Man, it was time consuming. Sitting there with the remote, fast-forwarding to every special team play, etc. That took me weeks! Now, with programs like DSV and Hudl, that job gets done much quicker.
Basically, I wasn't thrilled with what I saw. The team was 5-5 in 2001. We had an average high school punter. We used the standard 5 linemen, 2 gunners, 2 wings, 1 personal protector and punter formation that you see in the NFL and many other places (Diagram 1).
I noticed a few things while reviewing our punt team:
- Like what I've seen with a lot of high school football players and even college and NFL players, making the tackle in the open field on the punt team is a difficult thing to do. What I saw was that our kids were in position to make a tackle many times, but just didn't. They would either get juked by the returner, or have poor fundamentals on breaking down and making the tackle.
- The 5 linemen were pretty useless in covering punts. Why are we sending offensive linemen out on the punt team? Only one lineman of ours all season made a tackle on the punt team. Well, the main reason we use them is in protection. But still, is it a wise use of personnel?
- We only had two guys getting off the ball and down the field, the gunners. The other 8 were focused on protection first, then covering the kick second. If those two gunners got held up, and weren't able to fight through their blocks, we have to rely on the linemen and the wings to get downfield AFTER their protection responsibilities.
- If the other team only put one guy on each gunner, and one returner deep, this meant they were able to bring 8 for the block. We would have 8 in for protection, but one of those players is having to first focus on snapping the ball. And the personal protector, was there to simply pick up anyone the front 7 missed. Therefore, I felt like we were outmanned. In fact, we had 3-4 punts blocked because of this during the year.
- If we played a team faster than us, we gave up more punt return yards period. If their returner was faster than our gunners, we lost field position. There was no way around that.
- The geometry and the angles of our coverage unit vs. their return unit made it difficult to keep them from gaining yards and field position. If a team used a sideline return, they had the advantage of setting that up, knowing where they were going, etc. We were then on the "defensive" against their return. I didn't like that. Those sideline type returns were very popular ten years ago, and still are today. They split the field in half, so half of your guys are essentially useless against this type of return as far as making a tackle, etc. Especially one of your gunners; when they return opposite him, there isn't much he can do on that play.
So, what do you do to combat these 6 flaws with the standard punt scheme we were using? How do I "fix" this?
I began a search for a new punt scheme. I went to all of the usual clinics and read a lot of articles and research online. I finally found an idea I really loved, and had never seen on the field before- which was about the Shield Punt. I loved it! It was totally different than anything I had seen before, which I knew might present some problems for the teams we played. A phrase I love to apply to Special Teams is "predictability breeds vulnerability." This means that if you continue to always do the same thing, you can become vulnerable to attack. So, something new like this would be great to use!
As with most clinics and articles that I find and want to apply to my own program, I took out of it what I liked, and left what I didn't like! So, below is what I came up with and have taught for the last 10 years regarding the shield punt!
Shield Punt Installation
I installed the shield punt! But the shield punt I use, is different than what you are seeing all over the college landscape the last two years. It's become a bit of a fad on the college football scene lately. I started using the shield punt in 2002. Check the diagram below:
Why Use The Shield Punt
We get 7 players in the face of the returner pretty quick. We aren't just relying on a few "gunners" to get down and make the tackle. This is an aggressive punt, where we are on the "offensive" more than the "defensive."
We are using this punt to maximize our field position, while at the same time minimizing blocks and returns. By getting our players down the field quickly, the returner will have a tough time making a good, clean catch, and won't have much room to run if we do this right. Lastly, the return team will not be able to set up a return because we get down the field so quickly.
On the front line of 7, we want to use quick and fast linebacker/safety type football players. These guys need to be able to get down the field, while also having some size and strength to them for "blocking" their men. We don't want slow offensive linemen on this unit in the front seven. The front seven need to be aggressive kids. They need to know how to make a tackle in the open field if needed, that is why I like to use defensive players in the front seven. The three players in the shield are your offensive linemen type guys. Here, we value size over speed. They have zero pursuit and tackling responsibility. Their main job is to create a shield about 7 yards in front of the punter, to block anyone who comes through the front line to block the punt. Therefore, big and strong offensive linemen types are the best for the shield.
Alignment of Front Seven
It's very, very, very important that the front seven spread the field. This punt will be blocked from the edges if you fail to spread the field. This means that they need to line up with proper splits each and every time. This point can't be over-coached in practice.
We call the front seven guys L3, L2, L1, C, R1, R2, R3. They need to have one-yard splits between each of them. See diagram below. They will be in a two point stance, in a hit position, hands "in their holsters" ready to get off the ball and block through their zone.
Alignment of the Shield
The shield is lined up with their heels at 7 yards behind the ball. So, if the ball is on your own 30 yard line, the heels of the shield are on the 23 yard line. We name the shield positions S1, S2 and S3, from left to right. They also need to have one yard splits between each of them, except for S2 and S3 will start out almost shoulder to shoulder. The S1 lines up directly behind L1. S2 lines up in the gap between C and R1. S3 lines up behind R1.
Alignment of the Punter
Now, the punter is the easiest one to get lined up! We are going to line our punter up with his heels at 14 yards.
Now that we are all lined up and situated, it's time to get ready to snap the ball. Here is how we proceed with that. The S2, middle shield player, is the "quarterback" of the Punt team. This means that he is the one speaking out, and directing the team in the huddle, etc.
- Once the punt team is all set, he will make sure that we have 11 guys on the field. If we don't have 11 men on the field, we will usually take the delay of game penalty. Only I, the head coach, will call a timeout on this play if we really need it.
- He will then look back to the punter to make sure that he is ready to receive the ball.
- The punter will point at him, and shake his head up and down in the "yes" motion.
- Then S2 will turn his head back around, get set himself, and then yell out "Ready, Ready." This is the call that we are going to snap the ball any second. This tells the team to get ready to go!
- When the punter is ready to receive the ball, he will flick both of his hands towards the center. The center needs to be looking at the punter the entire time after he hears the words "ready, ready" from S2.
- The center snaps the ball when he sees the punter flick his hands towards him.
I taught you about: why to use this punt, the personnel to use, the alignment of all 11 players, and the cadence. Now, it's time to move on to how we get our kids off the line of scrimmage, protect the punter, and get downfield to make a tackle!
Getting of the Line of Scrimmage
We don't use man principles. We "block through the defenders on the way to the ball." You are basically responsible for the gap to your left or right. For the 3 guys on the LOS on the right hand side, they are taking a big step to the right with their right foot, then a "banana" step with their left foot to get around or through the person in that gap to their right.
They are basically ripping through that person on the way to the football. If there is a man up, or man on you, you aren't blocking that person, not even touching him, unless he crashes hard to your right. We teach our kids that they aren't "blocking" but running through their zone on the way to the football. If there is someone in your way, run right through them. Our kids understand, they aren't blocking anyone. We drill the HECK out of this concept during the week, show our kids all kinds of fronts, etc.
Insert Diagram 7
L3, L3, L1: Your first step is with your left foot. It needs to be a large, lateral step. Your second step is a "banana step" with your right foot. The "banana step" looks like a banana! Pick up your foot, bring it towards your left foot, then get some ground in front of you and some width from your left foot before putting it back down. Your right foot is moving laterally, THEN vertically up the field. The reason you use this step is to literally get around anyone who might be in your way. You are using this step to "get skinny" in order to block through anyone in the gap to your left, on your way to the football. Remember, you are NOT blocking anyone in this punt scheme. You are blocking through them on the way to the football. You will need to use your right arm to "rip" through the player in the gap to your left, on your way to the football!
Your responsibility: You are NOT running through anyone head up on you. If there is someone head up on you, your teammate to your right will be running through this man! If there is someone on your outside shoulder (your left shoulder), you may be running through this man IF he penetrates the gap between you and your teammate to your left. If he slants to where you just were, you are NOT touching him. You are only responsible for running through the player in your running lane, which is from your left foot to right foot of your teammate on your left. That's it! It's very simple. You don't have to count players, you don't have to worry if there are too many players on your side. Be aggressive! Get off the ball, find your running lane, get in that running lane, and run through anyone in that lane! You will be coming in contact with someone at the line of scrimmage. Remember, you are NOT blocking this man. You are running through the left side of his body on your way to the football! Do not stay at the line of scrimmage blocking him! Go get the football!
Center: Your main priority, and the only thing you need to THINK about is getting the ball to the punter with the best snap of your life! Focus on getting the football to the punter's target first and foremost. After that, go get the football! You are NOT blocking anyone on this punt, you are RUNNING THROUGH anyone in your way. You have no blocking responsibilities. You are running straight down the field to make a tackle on the returner. If someone gets in your way in the first 5 yards, run through the man on your way to the football.
R1, R2, R3: Your first step is with your right foot. It needs to be a large, lateral step. Your second step is a "banana step" with your left foot. The "banana step" looks like a banana! Pick up your foot, bring it towards your right foot, then get some ground in front of you and some width from your right foot before putting it back down. Your left foot is moving laterally, THEN vertically up the field. The reason you use this step is to literally get around anyone who might be in your way. You are using this step to "get skinny" in order to block through anyone in the gap to your left, on your way to the football. Remember, you are NOT blocking anyone in this punt scheme. You are blocking through them on the way to the football. You will need to use your left arm to "rip" through the player in the gap to your left, on your way to the football!
Your responsibility: You are NOT running through anyone head up on you. If there is someone head up on you, your teammate to your left will be running through this man! If there is someone on your outside shoulder (your right shoulder), you may be running through this man IF he penetrates the gap between you and your teammate to your right. If he slants to where you just were, you are NOT touching him. You are only responsible for running through the player in your running lane, which is from your right foot to left foot of your teammate on your right. That's it! It's very simple. You don't have to count players, you don't have to worry if there are too many players on your side. Be aggressive! Get off the ball, find your running lane, get in that running lane, and run through anyone in that lane! You will be coming in contact with someone at the line of scrimmage. Remember, you are NOT blocking this man. You are running through the right side of his body on your way to the football! Do not stay at the line of scrimmage blocking him! Go get the football!
Shield: When the ball is snapped, your first steps are one yard up and in towards the path of the football. So, L1 will be taking a step with his right foot about one yard up, and one yard in. L2 and L3 will be taking a one yard step up and in with your left feet. You will then be shoulder to shoulder. Get in to a the good hitting position which we teach you. Be ready to stand your ground! Stay square, and stay together! You can NOT give up any yards. If so, you may get pushed in to the punter. Stand your ground!
Your responsibility: You are creating a shield to defend our punter. This shield is strong, this shield is tough! You are to NEVER LEAVE THE SHIELD! Do not chase anyone. Stay put! If you chase someone, you will open up a direct line to the punter. S1 and S3 - With your hands, be ready to "punch" any players coming off of the edge of the shield. Simply strike any opponent to his shoulder pads with the heel of your hand (same technique we teach to the wings on PAT) if he is coming right off the edge of the shield. All you need to do is get him off of his direct path to the punter. A strike to his shoulder pads will do this. Anyone coming right up the middle to you, absorb his hit with your body by being in a good hit position, and lowering yourself as he approaches.
Punter: Field the snap, and get the best kick of your life of as soon as you can! Then, give some voice direction to your teammates about where the ball is. For instance "Right, right, right" or "short, short, short." Just one word phrases, repeated loudly. You are not expected to make a tackle. Trail your kick, and make sure a tackle is made. You are the safety valve. If the ball carrier gets free, and makes it through our first ten guys, welcome to football, go make a tackle!
Getting Down the Field
Once the front line gets off the line of scrimmage, they should fan just slightly to get in to their running lane. Their running lane needs to be from where their feet were set at the line of scrimmage to a width of about two yards. This will stretch your front seven players across the football field.
There are two options for containment. As the diagram above shows, the L3 and R3 serve as contain men. I also like to use S1 and S3 as contain men. Either option works. Usually, L3 and R3 are wide enough to act as contain men, but I always give them the freedom to find the football to make the tackle!
Practicing Covering the Shield Punt
One way in which I teach the kids to cover the punt and find their lanes to get down the field, I set up cones about 40 yards from the line of scrimmage. I put these cones where the kids should land if the punt is kicked right down the middle of the field. This is a really great drill to use starting in the spring. You need seven cones. I don't set up cones for the shield guys or punter. Those guys should really never make a tackle in this punt scheme. In fact, they aren't great tacklers anyway, being offensive linemen!
Get your kids to take their lateral step, banana step, and then their butts downfield quickly to their assigned cone. I usually set some guys up in their way holding bags, so they have to practice ripping through those guys and then getting back in to their lanes. Obviously, these cones need to be adjusted when you are practicing kicking from the left and right hashes.
Direction of the Kick
I know that lot of this shield punt used at the collegiate level uses directional kicking. I don't do that at the high school level. I've had a few Division 1 kickers in the last twelve years (one turned out to be a phenomenal kicker at the University of Hawaii, Dan Kelly, he was there when Colt Brennan took them to the Sugar Bowl) but for the most part, your average high school kicker can't make this type of directional kick.
We always ask our punter to kick it straight down the field. That way, our assignments never change for the front seven or the shield. That is one of the things I really like about this punt.
Over the course of the last 10 years of using this punt at two different schools, it has given up ONE touchdown, and I've only had two punts blocked while using it! Those are some pretty amazing stats! In 2008, my punt team gave up a total of 18 yards over 52 punts. And 14 of those yards were on one punt! That means the other 51 punt returners only got 4 yards! How would you like those kind of numbers on your punt team?
I hope that you have learned a lot about the use of the Shield Punt. I would be more than happy to talk with any of you more about this punt scheme. I absolutely love it! If you are in Southern California, I'd love to come out and help you install it. Just contact me via twitter @coachfore or through my website www.coachfore.org