Create more scoring opportunities out of your kicking game by implementing this simple scheme.
By William Wyrick
Harnett Central High School (NC)
Editors Note: Coach Wyrick is in his 5th season at Harnett Central(NC). During his coaching career, his teams have been quite successful including playing for the 4-A State Championship in 2009. During his 34 year coaching career, Coach Wyrick has been a high school head coach, a defensive coordinator at both the high school and college level, and have also been a head coach in track, tennis, and golf.
When I entered high school coaching, after spending many years as a college coach, I was determined to do three things relevant to designing a successful scheme:
- Find the best way to execute schemes that were not dependent upon the talent available to be successful - we all know this can change by season.
- I wanted a scheme that could be used on a game-to-game and year-to-year basis without a lot of adjustment or additional teaching.
- I wanted schemes that were easy enough to execute to avoid penalties.
We believe that Special Teams are still the best way to out scheme and out coach our opponents. One of our goals is to win the field position battle and as we all know, special teams play a huge part in this. We wanted the Kickoff Return unit to set the tone to open a half or regain momentum after a score by our opponent.
When we looked at the Kickoff Return, we were never able to make the wall returns work consistently due to the inconsistency of the kickers we faced. The crossing returns by the front wall were not good to us as we either missed a man or had too many holding or blocking in the back penalties. When we looked at the Double Wedge return, we believed that it gave us what we were looking for without the problems we faced using other returns.
We liked that this return would allow us to return any kind of kick (deep, directional, pooch, sky, squib, even onside), anywhere on the field. It was simple to teach, and simple to adjust week to week. The results were more consistent (field position, touchdowns, lack of penalties) regardless of our talent level.
We have had success with this return on both good and bad teams. We have had two young men tie the state record for returns in a game with two. Just last season, our returner took four back for scores for the season (second in state history).
Double Wedge Philosophy
- KISS principle (Keep it Simple, Stupid) – One return for all kicks, get good with repetition.
- Maximize practice time - we practice this return on Wednesday and Thursday in season.
- Most sound scheme for good blocking angles.
- Have a coach for each wedge and one for the returners - and coach it as hard as you would your primary position.
- Soften coverage by having good position on coverage personnel.
- Punch a big hole in the coverage by knocking them down and forcing them to go to the outside of the wedge.
- Return man force ball North/South as soon as possible. To do this, he needs to have confidence in his blockers and accelerate to where you see opening (this is the key element in making this return work).
- Expect onside kick every time, but especially after a penalty against us.
Key Factors Determining Success
- Sprint to landmarks for good position on blocking angles.
- Front Wedge always see ball kicked over your head before you move.
- Get shoulder to shoulder and do not trade one for one on your blocks.
- No foolish penalties.
- Biggest factor in poor field position.
- If you can’t put your shoulder in his chest, pass on the block.
- Returners have clear communication with each other.
- Want Returner (deep man) to catch ball as much as he can by using "You/Me" calls – He is the call guy.
- With the Middle Wedge, he will yell "Go, Go, Go" within seven yards of the wedge.
- Tackles – We look for athletic fast people. We have used receivers, defensive backs, and outside linebackers.
- Guards – We need bigger, more physical people. We look for offensive linemen, defensive linemen, and inside linebackers.
- Center – This person has to be football smart, physically tough, and have some ball skills as he must set the front wedge.
All of these players must have minimum ball skills to recover an onside kick. The best one I’ve ever coached was a defensive tackle that played catcher on the baseball team.
- Tight Ends – We look for bigger, athletic people. Tight Ends, linebackers, safeties, and defensive ends are people we have used here. They must have enough ball skills to catch the ball if it is kicked to them.
- Fullback – This is a critical person in the return. He must have ball skills, be fast and physical enough to lead the second wedge, and most importantly unselfish.
- Wings/Returner – There is not a lot of difference between the three deep men. We often have younger guys at the wings and an older, more experienced player as the returner. All must be football smart, fast, and fearless. They must also be unselfish and block for each other when the ball is not kicked to them.
The key thing we look for is players who are decisive. They see or anticipate a seam and hit it at a hundred miles an hour. If they stutter and dance, they will not be good on this team. They are usually running backs or receivers but, oftentimes they will not be your best offensive player.
Our alignments will be based on the kicking team’s alignment, ball placement, and where we anticipate them kicking the ball based on our scouting report. We also factor in the game day conditions. The alignments below are based on a middle of the field ball placement.
Front Wedge – Tackles: top of the numbers; Guards: outside foot on the hash; Center: offset the ball to your best side. All will be on the 47 yard line facing the ball in a middle infielder position.
Middle Wedge – Tight Ends: split the difference between the numbers and hash. The yard line will be determined by how deep the kicker kicks the ball. Our base alignment is the 32 yard line. The fullback is directly in front of the ball never wider than an upright. The base alignment is the 28 yard line.
Returners – Wings: One yard inside the numbers. The base alignment is the 13 yard line. Returner: Directly over the ball, never wider than splitting the difference between the hash and near upright.
If the ball is kicked from a hash we will make the following adjustments.
Front Wedge – If they are a sky kick team (across the field) we generally do not adjust our alignment. If they are a corner kick team we will adjust as follows.
- Near Tackle: bottom of the numbers.
- Near guard: one yard outside the hash.
- Center: near upright.
- Far Guard: spilt the difference between the hash and far upright.
- Far Tackle: split the difference between the far numbers and far hash.
- All will align on the 47 yard line facing into the ball.
Middle Wedge – Near Tight End: top of the numbers, Fullback: near upright, Far Tight End: far hash. If they are a sky kick team, we can flip this adjustment to that side of the field.
Returners – Near Wing: bottom of the numbers, Returner: near upright, Far Wing: split the difference between the numbers and hash.
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Video tutorial with game footage explaining the double wedge kickoff return
How Coach Wyrick designs practice time to teach the double wedge return
Continued from above...
We scout each opponent’s kickoff for ball placement, kick height, depth, and location. We also look for the first man down on coverage and any special/trick kicks. Based on this information we will give our return team their alignments and depths for the week. We will also give the Center and Fullback landmarks to set their wedges.
As the ball is kicked:
- The Center will sprint to his landmark trying to get in front of the ball, never going wider than one yard outside the hash.
- The Guards will sprint to the back shoulder of the Center.
- The Tackle will sprint to the back shoulder of the Guard (they do not look for the ball, just the next man inside them).
- The Center yells "Here, Here, Here" and after they are set makes a "Go" call for the front wedge. They want to force the coverage to the outside, gradually coming apart as they advance downfield. The coaching point we use is to be like a starburst (as it comes apart).
- The Fullback will sprint to his landmark trying to get in ten yards in front of where the ball will be caught, never wider than the bottom of the numbers. He is yelling "Ball, Ball, Ball".
- The Tight Ends will sprint to his back shoulder. No one on this row can back up to catch a ball unless they get a "You" call from a returner. If they catch a ball they are to get behind the front wedge.
- The returners will field the ball if it is kicked to them.. If it is not kicked to them, they sprint to the near shoulder of the Tight End. The nearest man secures the catch by being at a point five yards to the side and behind where the ball is caught.
If the returner does not catch the ball, he replaces the Wing who did in the second wedge. As soon as the ball is secure sprint for the wedge and make a "Go" call. We tell the returner if they are within seven yards of the wedge they will not get caught from behind. The goal of this wedge is to run through the first wedge intact. If that happens, we have a great chance to score, and will most assuredly be on the other side of the fifty yard line.
If they squib kick, nothing changes, we will field it at the Middle wedge level if it is slow. If it is hot, we let it go to the returners. If they kick the ball out of bounds to avoid our return, we will almost always make them kick it again.
As you get better, teams will stop kicking to your best returner. Some ways we deal with this is to switch the returners’ position to put the best one where the ball is kicked and to bunch and break out late.
We have found this return to be very effective no matter our talent level. It is simple to install, adjust, and takes no longer to practice than any other return during the week. It is a pleasure and an honor to write an article for the X&O Labs and to represent our program at Harnett Central High School.
Questions or Comments? Please post your questions or comments below and Coach Wyrick will respond shortly.