Creating a Strategic Advantage on Kickoff

Oct 28, 2012 | Kickoff Coverage, Special Teams

Importance of the Kick Off Team

In my opinion, Kick Off is probably the 2nd most important special team. Punt is the first. When you design your kick off coverage, you have to make sure that there are no huge gaps in the cover lanes. When repping it, you have to be certain that your players understand their relation to each other on the field. Your cover unit has to stay even relative to each other. If not you’re going to give the return team a seam to run through.

I really don't think this is an area overlooked by many coaches. Most coaches today are aware of the momentum that a KO returned for a touchdown can bring a team. It means a lot to me, personally, because, I started my first season as a head coach with a kick off returned for a touchdown. That's definitely something I want to ever happen again. Why We Do What We Do

Our basic philosophy on kickoff and special teams over all is that we want to force the other team to spend time preparing for some thing that they will not see on a regular basis. The more time they spend in preparation for special teams , the less time they are going to have to spend on offense and defense. If they don’t prepare for what we are doing then we are at an advantage. If they simply extend their practice time, then they are risking loading their players down with too much information or wearing them out mentally. Goals

We want our opponent to start behind their own 30 yard line. The odds say that you'll only score 1 in 8 times you get the ball behind your own 40 and 1-30 if you start behind your own 20. We want to give you the ball as far back as possible. We basically want our opponents to cover as much ground as possible. Alignment

Our base kick off sets up 3 huddles each 7 yards from the ball. The outside two huddles each consist of two players, stacked on the top or middle of the numbers. The middle huddle is 7 yards off the ball in the middle of the field. There are 6 players in this huddle, lined up shoulder to shoulder. The formation should look like this. The Kicker will set the ball up on the field, based on the call he gets on the sideline. He will kickoff from the right or left hashes or from the middle of the field.

We like this formation for several reasons.

We always have the threat of the onside kick to the middle of the field. We also have the threat of the onside kick to the right or left if we line the kicker on the middle of the field. This formation makes it very hard for the return to identify who they are blocking. Because we are stacked, the return to is forced to either use a simple wedge return, or to use a zone blocking scheme. If the team uses a man scheme, you have forced them out of their comfort zone by doing something they are not familiar with. They will have to rep the new return or not be very good at it, or, if we are lucky, spend a lot of time on a new return AND not be very good at it. The return team can’t zero in on one man to block. The players are likely to become a little confused and therefore end up blocking no one.


Ideally, our kickoff team would be filled with 2 free safeties, 4-6 strong safeties or outside linebacker types, and 2 inside linebackers. The kids would be fast, athletic and great tacklers. Unfortunately, none of us lives in an ideal world. To compensate for this, we look for kids with a lot of heart, desire, and willingness to be coached. We have a wide range of position players on our kickoff team. We have a back up corner all the way down to our 6’3" 285 offensive tackle. The one thing they all have in common is that they all hustle and can get downfield in their coverage lane. The Element of Surprise

We motion from the stack before each kick off. Our players will move on the kicker’s signal. Ideally, when the ball is kicked, they should be in a straight line. This takes some practice with your kicker. He has to be consistent his timing or else, you’ll have uneven cover lanes. One of the nice things we’ve noticed about this coverage is that even if you come off uneven, you can still get good coverage. Because we are bunched up at the middle of the field, we have the threat of onside at all times. If we notice that a team is leaving the middle open, we can surprise them with an onside kick. Additional Kicking Resources:

With an understanding of why we use this kickoff strategy (See Creating a Strategic Advantage on Kickoff - Part 1), we can now move on to implementation and drilling the kickoff.

We really only use three drills for the kick off team: Team versus Air to work on proper takeoff and coverage lanes and live team to work proper cover lanes, tackling, and block avoidance. Those are the two we use the most. During two-a-days and in the early part of the season, we use a drill I got from AFCA’s Complete Guide to Special Teams in an article by Greg McMahon. The diagram below shows how we set up the field for this drill.

Equipment Needed:

  • 8 Cones or something to be used for landmarks, 2 hand shields, Bag or dummy large enough to be tackled


Cover man (CM) starts on one sideline, then on coach’s command, sprints across field. He must avoid first bag while staying w/in the 3 yd box, he then regains his coverage lane to the next scout player. The CM then uses a two-hand butt technique in the ATTACK zone to defeat and shed the 2nd block. Once past this point, the player will sprint to the cones and settle his feet (chopping) in a good football position. The returner will then be released by the coach to run full speed to one of the landmarks. The CM will shuffle to the side that the returner is running to and execute an open field tackle on the bag the returner is holding. The players will then rotate to the starting position at the opposite sideline. One coach will be on each side to release the CM and returner. Variation: This could also be down using a kicker or punter, so that the returner gets practice fielding kicks and the CM get accustomed to moving on the kicker’s movement.

Coaching Points:

  • Players should use any means possible to avoid the first blocker, but must stay w/ in the 3 yd box and regain lane integrity.

  • On attacking the 2nd bag, players should gather feet to prepare for contact. On contact, they should stun pad with heel of their palms and shuck pad to one side.

  • Do not release return man until CM has gathered feet at cones.

  • Ensure proper form tackle on the returner's bag. Have CM execute form tackle and bring bag to returner’s spot while still in form tackle.

Any great play starts with communication. In the case of our kickoff scheme, that is certainly the case. Here are some details regarding how we communicate the play to the team.