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.