Block That Punt - The Anatomy of a Special Teams Game-Changer

There are few plays in sports that can turn momentum like a blocked punt in football. This is especially true when the block happens in the second half of a tight game.

In 2007, 9 punts were blocked. 13 were blocked in 2008. Punters Jason Baker of the Carolina Panthers had 3 blocked and Michael Koenen of the Atlanta Falcons had 2. Six Punts were blocked in 2009, and Baker and Koenen were victimized again with 1 apiece.

That doesn't come close to the record of Most Punts Had Blocked in a Season. That embarrassment belongs to Harry Newsome of the Pittsburgh Steelers. In 1988, Newsome had an astounding 6 of his punts blocked. 1990 saw Bryan Wagner of the Cleveland Browns taken advantage of 4 times.

Having a feared punt returner on your team can force the opposing team to decide whether they are going to protect against the block or the return. Instead of "Duck and Cover," we have protect or cover. This can create an opportunity for a blocked punt.

As I stated in the post, The Punting Unit:

 

 In 90% of games in which a punt is blocked, the team that makes the block, wins the game. The philosophy for the Punting Unit is to kick the ball as fast as possible.

Timing is all important when executing the snap-to-punt. The snap should take 0.8 seconds. The punter should get the punt off in 1.3 seconds, Any longer than this 2.1 seconds risks a blocked punt or an early release by the cover men, which would incur a penalty. The number of steps a Punter takes is irrelevant, as long as he gets the punt away in a reasonable time and distance. The Standard is 4 yards or less handling distance time from catch to punt. Frequent practice on this timing will result in greater consistency in the Punt sequencing.

If a punt is blocked, and does not cross the Line of Scrimmage, the ball is still in play. Either side may advance the ball. If the ball (whether it is blocked or not) passes the Line Of Scrimmage it is treated like any other punt.

 

PUNT BLOCK TECHNIQUES

Rushing the punter is done with six, seven, or eight men in the box. The players (rushing) may be trying to hold up the offensive lineman, rush, force the punt, or set a pick for a teammate, but their mentality on the first two steps should be the same;

"I am going to block this punt."

The rushers should never be caught flat-footed at the snap. The first two steps should be quick and aggressive. Most kick blockers have excellent speed and run by the outside protectors on the offensive line. If there is a breakdown in the punt protection, they must be in position to make the block. Blocked punts in the NFL are caused by a bad snap or poor getoff time, but most of the time, they are a result of a missed assignment.

Players need to have confidence in their ability to successfully block punts. Technique and the knowledge of the punters block point and getoff time are critical. Each man  must develop a mental clock of when to attempt the block and when to shift to an aggressive holdup. All of this occurs by the third step.

General principles guide the players in this unit to make sound split-second judgements. The coach can help by providing his players with guidelines that assist them in situations that are not black and white (which applies to most situations in football).

Here are the applicable principles for blocking punts:

Know your assignment -  Study videotape of your opponents in order to find a weak spot on the offensive line to exploit. Get in the film room and look for that opponent who may not be prepared for the explosive move that you can make in order to block the punt.

Know the punter's block spot - Does the punter use a diagonal drop-step? Or is it straight forward. This is important to know, because it affects the point that a player starts to lay out their body for the block.

Know the punter's getoff time (mental clock) - As stated above, 1.3 seconds is a good getoff time for the punt. If the punter is slower, the chances of a blocked punt increase.

Be Alert - When the yardage needed for a 1st down is 5 yards or less, be ready for a hard count. Execute a great getoff on the snap. Key the back tip of the ball and the Center. Do not be called for offsides.
The key to this is anticipating the snap count and getting a quick first step once the ball is snapped.


Certain coaching points that apply to punt blocking should be taught and reinforced consistently:


Crowd the ball
(while being alert for the neutral zone infraction) - Showing the perception of a block attempt can apply mental pressure to the punting unit and cause a mistake (bad snap or a hurried punt).

Keep weight on your front foot - Balance is the key to prevent jumping offsides. Use the best starting stance that you have and keep your pads down.

The inside rushers should not jump to make the block (as opposed to a Field Goal attempt) - Their job is to force the double team and take up as many blockers as possible. This frees up the outside rushers who have a better chance to make the block.

Once the player (rushing the punter) has gotten a clear step on the outside defender, he has to flatten out his approach and head to where the kicker's foot will be when he kicks the ball. This is one of the most important things to remember. It's not where the punter receives the ball from the center or where his first step will be, it's about making impact with the ball when it reaches the kicker's foot.
  
Approach the kicker's foot and the ball with reckless abandon. As the rusher picks up speed with each step and he is within 5 to 8 feet of the spot where the punter's foot will impact the ball, he must begin his layout dive toward the ball. He then extends his arms overhead and dives towards the impact point, keeping an eye on the ball. He takes the ball off the punter's foot. His aim is to block the football like a volleyball (both hands), and avoid contact with the punter.

When executed correctly, the ball is blocked with the hands, arms, face or upper body.

The player must keep going whether he makes impact with the ball or not. If he manages to get his hands or body on the ball, he can't just lay there and enjoy the moment. He might be in a position to turn a great play into a spectacular one. He should look for the ball, pick it up and run with it. If he can accomplish this, he should have a clear path to the endzone, or one with just the punter to beat for six points. If he doesn't block the punt, he has to get downfield and assist with the blocking on the return after just extending a lot of energy trying to make the block.  
  

The punt blocker is a special player. By putting himself in harm's way, being successful at his job and going full speed without concern for his own safety, he earns respect in the locker room.

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