Building Winning Special Teams with Core Principles – Part II
By Mike Cieri, Defensive Line and Special Teams Coordinator
Montclair State University
We tell all of our players on how to “Get on the Bus”. To be a special team player you must be a starter or key back-up on offense or defensive, a multi-team special team player and/or a Top Specialist (kicker, punter, holder, long and short snappers, returners). We are looking for quality players who care about special teams.
The principle we build our winning specials teams upon is simple “Techniques are Primary, Scheme is Secondary”. Coach John Majors stated about his special teams was that, “Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect, Perfect Practice Makes Perfect”. We truly believe in that but take it a step further. We use this phrase of the five P’s for effective special team’s performance, “Planning
Perfect Practices Powers Peak Play”. First is the organization of the coaching staff. Each coach, that the head coach makes available for special teams, is assigned an on and off the field duty.
Secondly, the master practice plan matrix must be formulated to ensure that all phases of the game are being taught for technique, scheme, game rules and game day alerts. Pre and in-season practices are set-up in the master practice schedule with the same segments. There are two 10 minute periods back to back in the early part of practice. These two periods are called Indy Drills and the Specialist Period. Near the end of the middle part of practice there is the 20 minute period usually broken down in two ten minute periods. These 10 minute periods are the group/combo and the kicking game/team periods. The Specialist period is not on the practice schedule as it occurs daily. It will be explained in length later in this article. The three previous periods mention the nightly meeting and walk-thru agendas are listed also. The first week of camp special team installation precedes prior to our first scrimmage and the first meeting has all of the specialists meeting with their coaches for expectations.
The in-season practice schedule for the heavy work days of Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays follows the same format as during the pre-season plus every team period is scripted. Also the more skilled necessary special teams such as punt pressure will get more time during the practice week. This must happen – doing all of the variations to punt formations that we encounter. Every team period is scripted, treating our special teams just as it was offense or defense.
In order to manage all of the personnel, the special team coordinator prepares daily the depth chart for all special teams and specialist. This assures that the proper players are getting the necessary reps need for them to be successful come game day.
Once the organizational pieces have been readied-up it is now time to concentrate on building the core special team fundamentals. Techniques that make a difference to improve the efficiency of each special team’s player are taught through a series of drills which begin in pre-season camp and carried over to the in-season. We talk to our players that we must “WIN THE DOWN EARLY”. This WTDE means that each player is performing every technique that our drills are stressing and focusing on doing the “LITTLE THINGS” right.
One of periods is dedicated to our Specialists. As you note from practice organization schedule almost every player is involved during this period. This period occurs every day during pre-season camp and on Wednesday and Thursday during the season. The specialist period is to build and reinforce the individual player’s skills while maximizing practice time for our specialists. The plan is to get all of the players involved with special team and master their fundamentals. The standard for this period would be the snappers, punter, kickers, and returners. But will include other personnel groups, too. For example, the OL is working on extra point/FG Protection while the DL is developing attack that protection. Players that are on the kickoff return (not returners) are working on catch different kinds of kick offs such as pop up (fair catch) and drive kicks. This group changes on different days as we also work on downing the football with the punt unit. As far as the gunners and swatters, they work individually on the mirror technique described previously but on certain days they join the punt returners. The gunners (stingers) release on the snap and attack the returner while the swatter using the mirror technique prevents the gunner from getting to the returner. It also teaches the returner to catch the ball under pressure.