It’s very important that your coaching staff and players know the rules of each Special Teams unit. There are some quirky rules within Special Teams, and if you do not review those rules with your team it might just cost you a possession, or even worse, a touchdown. Read my series on “8 of the Most Misunderstood Special Teams Rules” here.
1) A punt which does not cross the line of scrimmage continues in play. It is a “live” ball. All players may catch or recover the ball and advance it. Remember, this is whether it is blocked, or miskicked. So, the punt unit may recover that football and advance it. Or the return team may recover and advance it. Get on that football!
2) Stay in proper coverage lanes as you sprint down the field. Keep the returner both inside and in front of you. This leverage is important so that you do not give up a big return.
3) If you have containment responsibilities, you must contain. Trust the process. You have one job: to turn the returner back inside, to be tackled by your teammates. Keep your head on a swivel, and be aware of blockers outside of you.
4) Never overrun the ball. Break down, square up, and make sure tackles. Flying by the returner does nothing to help your team. Beware of your speed.
5) The punt team must give the punt returner two yards in all directions of unmolested space to catch the ball. Receiver interference is penalized this “halo” is violated.
6) A fair catch cannot be advanced by either team. The fair catch sign means yield to the punt team. It is like a yellow light. Don’t stop, he may muff the punt, and you can recover it.
7) A man signaling for a fair catch cannot block. He must catch the ball, or let it go, but cannot turn in to a blocker.
8) To make an evaluation on whether or not a fair catch signal was made, know that the receiver must extend one hand over his head and wave it from side to side. A signal may only be given once and it is in force. An invalid signal is penalized.
9) When a fair catch is signaled for, always expect the ball to be muffed. Keep your two yard distance and position until the catch or muff. Be ready!
10) If we “down” a punt, the covering man must stay with the ball until an official blows the whistle. The ball can be advanced if the whistle hasn’t blown to stop play. Make sure to “down” the ball. Reasoning: If the covering team on a punt touches the ball, but fails to officially “down” it, the receiving team can try to advance the ball at no risk to themselves. If they make a gain, they take the gain. If they fumble or lose yardage, they can elect to take the ball where it was first touched by the covering team. Again, make sure to “down” the ball.
Chris Fore has been a Special Teams Coordinator for 14 years. Currently, he is the STC at Victor Valley College in Southern California. He’s written the Shield Punt Manual; Fore started using the Shield Punt in 2002, before it was “en vogue!” Another Fore product for Special Teams is the Kick Returns/Punt Returns Manual which comes with 28 different plays!