Discover how you can quickly and effectively install the pro style spread punt concept that has powered Washington and Jefferson to an undefeated 2014 campaign.
By Christopher Smithley - @WJFootball
Secondary / Special Teams Coordinator
Washington and Jefferson College
At W&J, we spend a lot of time on our punt team. We feel that this is the most important special team unit. The punt team can change the game positively AND negatively quickly with big implications. You can change the field position and put your opponent in a long field situation. However, with the slightest mistake, a punt block for a touchdown changes not only the score, but the momentum in a game more than any other play in football. The punt team must be able to play under a large amount of pressure every time they run onto the field. We want to be perfect every time that ball gets snapped.
The Pro-Style Spread Punt is a punt scheme that has lost a lot of its popularity in recent years in the college game. A lot of schools are now going to the shield punt mostly because it fits their personnel and helps to put their guys in better coverage lanes. This punt scheme is a scheme that uses depths and angles to take away a possible block that also allows you to maximize the number of athletes you have on the field for a consistently solid coverage. We use the Pro-Style Spread Punt scheme because personally, I am a true believer that it is not only the best protection and coverage scheme but also because you can be very multiple in your looks and your options to build fakes. It allows you to keep your rules simple and precise regardless of the wrinkles that you feel necessary to be successful. This allows the players to PLAY rather than having to think about their responsibilities because it becomes a natural act. I also feel that this punt scheme allows you to get more athletes on the field to play and tackle in space from a coverage standpoint.
In our punt scheme our alignment is 6 inches between long snapper and guard, 6 inches between guard and tackle, and the wing is 1 yard outside and 1 yard deeper than the tackle. The guard, tackle and wing will align with their inside leg up with their feet staggered anywhere from 6 inches to a foot based off of comfort ability. They need to be in a good balanced stance with their butt down, flat back, and shoulders back with their eyes up. We always want to have our weight on the ball of our foot that is up, which is our inside leg. Our personal protector stands in a good linebacker stance heels at 5 yards from the ball in the A-gap. That A-gap will be decided off of whether our punter punts with his right foot or his left. Let me elaborate, if the punter punts with his right leg our personal protector will be in the right A-gap with his heels at 5 yards deep and in a solid linebacker stance. Our punter will be heels at 15 loose and relaxed and ready. Gunners will align at the top of the numbers in a receiver stance with the ball in the middle. If the ball is on the hash the gunner in the boundary will align at the bottom of the numbers and the gunner to the field will align on the far hash from where the ball is spotted.
The kick slide is a technique that our guard, tackle, and wing will use in our punt protection. As explained above in our stance, we want to be inside leg up, feet staggered with our butts down, back flat, and shoulders back with our eyes up. We want our weight on the ball of our inside leg. When the ball is snapped the inside leg will push and the outside leg will reach back and grab ground. Similar to the way an offensive tackle will pass set but with more explosiveness and depth while being balanced and completely under control. We want our guys to get from 4-6 yards of depth. We will drill this with just our front 7 over and over early in camp and spring ball. It is extremely important that not only are our guys getting depth, staying balanced, but also kicking straight back. We tell our guys to get 3 kick slides, engage, and drive our opponent out. When you are teaching the kick slide and working as a unit it is vital to take note on who works well with each other and who kick slides with a similar intensity to stay in sync. Working as a unit is extremely important. If some guys kick faster or slower than others our punt team will create seams. These seams are what every punt return coach is looking for when developing a specific block for a specific opponent.
The long snapper will also kick slide but his kick slide is taught differently due to the fact that he has a pretty important responsibility prior to kicking. If the ball does not get to the punter, the kick slide is the least of our worries. The long snapper will snap the ball and follow through with his motion that is needed to make a successful and consistent long snap to our punter. If the long snapper is protecting right, he will follow through with his long snapping motion. Once that motion has completed he will open up his right hip and set his right foot on 4 o’clock if he is standing on the clock. Once that hip opens up and he steps on the 4 he will shuffle twice taking the A-gap away from any pressure. “Snap-open-shuffle shuffle.”
Our protection is simple but very precise and effective only if each individual on this team is perfect on every snap. Our guard, tackle, and wing will always protect the same way with 3 kick slides. Their protection zone or responsibility is “my nose to the nose of the man outside of me”. Their responsibility is their outside gap. The wings will ask, “Coach what do I do if I get 2 threats outside of me?”. In this case we want our wing to get 3 kicks and take the most dangerous threat to his outside gap. Opponents will also attempt to get a block between the wing and the tackle. They will line an opponent up to the outside of the wing, run the wing up the field and attempt to slip through the wing/tackle gap or the C gap. They will also send a player through the outside shoulder of your tackle in this same sequence which puts your protection in a bit of a pickle, because the tackle is blocking his responsibility (my nose to the nose of the man outside of me) and he has 2 opponents in that gap. The wing must protect the outside gap unless he has no threat to the outside. If the wing has nothing to the outside he drives once that C gap penetration has committed to that gap and blocks that player down. The key to this whole scheme is getting our 3 kick slides and allowing our guys to see the twists and games that the opponents are attempting.
Our coverage is extremely important because we can do everything right up to this point, but if we have one slip up in coverage our goal for that individual play has not been met. This can result in giving an opponent’s offense good field position, a touchdown, and momentum. All things that we all know can be a major setback in a big football game. All games are big games!
Once again our only adjustments in coverage, similar to protection, are handled by the snapper and the personal protector. All that changes is their landmarks based off of their protection. If the personal protector fits in the right A-gap and sends the snapper left, the personal protector’s landmark is to the ball with leverage to the right side. I always say, “You are straight to the football and your landmark is the ball carriers right eye ball”. In this same case the long snapper would be straight to the ball and his landmark would be the ball carriers left eye ball.
The gunners’ responsibility is to win their 1 on 1 or their 1 on 2 battle with the opponents’ corners and be a disrupter. Do I want them to run down the field and make the tackle before the returner gets 2 steps in the ground? Yes, I absolutely do, but we also have to respect the ability of that returner back there catching the ball for the other team. Our gunners have to disrupt the immediate downhill attack of the returner. We want that returner to be nervous about making a catch on that ball because he knows that our gunners are coming for him and they will there any second. I want that returner to have to juke and jive back and forth because while that is happening he is being swarmed by a big cloud of our players with minimal time to gain any yards.
Our wings are our contain players. Once they complete their protection they will drive their blocks out and away from the punter and get in their contain coverage lane. If the ball is in the middle of the field the initial landmark will be the top of the numbers for both wings on their respected side. They will adjust how they need to, to keep that ball funneled to the inside.
Our tackle’s landmark will be half the distance between the top of the numbers and the hash. That is their lane responsibility. We want to work outside in on the ball carrier keeping him in the middle of our cloud of defenders.
Our guards are similar to our tackles. Their landmark will be down the inside of the hash. This typically puts our guys around 5 yards apart. We want our guys to converge to the football when needed but also understanding spacing and seeing our punt coverage as a whole unit and not an individual tackler.
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- A detailed look at what Coach Smithley looks for in each of the positions on his Punt team.
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- Additional coaching points for coverage and containment.
- Plus game film AND coaches commentary on this scheme.