May 04

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Winning with Punt Pressure (Part II)


By Mike Cieri, DL and Special Teams Coach

Montclair State University

Continued from yesterday.

The second phase of the core principles occurs downfield nearest the returner. The mirror concept is about the fitting into the defender on the proper 65% to block him creating a tunnel for the returner to advance the ball through. All the mirror drills are set up the same way. The different with each drill occurs at the end of drill depending on how the defender (coverage player) attempts to go after the returner or the position on the blocker (trail & fit player). The trail & fits landmark is on the sideline shoulder of the returner 5 yards up field from where the ball is going to caught. If the trail and fit player is ahead of the defender he will utilized the shimmy block technique. The shimmy block technique is where the trail & fit beat the defender to the spot in front of the return, whips is butt to the returner and slowly attacks the defender using many of the mirror techniques as described above. If the defenders attempted to play over the top, the trail & fit will re-trace either using a man or zone turn just like a defensive back. In this case the trail & fit should ride the defender across the return lane to the other side. For the above two techniques, demand that your trail & fit players. If the trail & fit is slightly behind the defender we teach the trail & fit to accelerate pass the defender, throw their hands up and run in front of the defender screening him off. We called this technique a run-by. It also prevents a stupid penalty.

Set up the each of the drills the same as in the diagram. Make sure that the trail & fit players are 1 to 2 yards behind the coverage player. The diagram is showing the all players have an inside force leverage on the coverage players and the tunnel for the returner will be between the right and left side trail & fit players. On the ‘go’ command, the players sprint down the field to a cone, approximately 20 – 25 yards. When the players get halfway to the cone, the coach flips the ball high in the air to the returner. The defenders once they reach the cone close in on the ball in on the ball carrier. Now the trail & fit must use one of the 3 techniques described above. A coaching point for this would be to create 3 stations at first and have each station concentrate on one technique. Once the trail & fit players have experienced the different blocks you can use one station and mix and match the coverage players’ techniques to get to the returner.

Returners along with swatters/stingers are further developed during the specialty periods and specific individual drills. The returners drills concentrate on catching the football, tucking it away properly, looking up field first to locate the traffic pattern and proceeding up field. The first thing we do to improve the ability of the returner to focus on the ball in flight is to read the spin of the ball. In meetings prior to practice and on the field with the returners’ coach using a simple drill the returners get to see how the different ball rotations and how the ball with react. The drill is set up with the returner standing with his back to the coach. The coach throws the ball high in the air to simulate a kick utilizing different rotations. When the ball is in flight, the returner turns around, locates the ball, reads the flight rotation, adjusts accordingly and the catches and tucks the ball using proper techniques. The returners read the nose of the football. If it is vertical (ball perpendicular) to the ground or knuckling, the ball will fall short & come straight down. If it is horizontal (ball parallel) to the ground, the ball will drive deep. If the nose is tilted right and left, it will drift in that direction so the returner needs to move to the ball keeping his center on the ball.

Once the returners get an understanding of how the ball will react we utilized 3 drills to develop the returner’s awareness of a defender(s) coming towards him and develop the returners abilities to catch the ball under pressure and make the defender miss the tackle.

Ball security will be a strong coaching point.



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 (Insert Red Hawks special Teams Practice set-up).

to be continued, part 3 will be posted tomorrow….



About the author

Coach Mike Cieri DL and Special Teams Coach Montclair State University

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