Creating a Special Teams Identity

The Importance of Special Teams

Some say it’s 1/3 of the game.  Some say when you count the snaps it’s 1/5 of the game.  Coach Da Prato, STC at USF, says it’s 49%!  If you look at yards in a game offenses/defenses account for about 800 yards in total.  Special teams on average account for just under 800 total yards which means that while special teams are responsible for less snaps, those snaps are all the more important when it comes to yardage in this game of inches.  Special Teams truly sets the tone and dictates field position and that’s why we must create a special teams identity for ourselves.


Creating an Identity in Each Unit

In order to create an identity on special teams, we must first outline our overall philosophy and our unit philosophies.  For me personally I believe special teams need to be simple but sound.  You need to do the things that give you trouble.  I want to force teams and coordinators to have to spend extra time on what we do, test whether they are simple and sound or not.  Then I want to throw in a wrinkle that they are not prepared for, 1) to take them out of whatever they have game planned for us and 2) to give our next opponent something else to prepare for.

I also believe you need to create a philosophy for each unit.  What do you hope to get out of each unit?  I believe this will guide you in what your playbook should be made of.  Here are mine:


Punt

· PLAY OFFENSE ON 4th DOWN!!!!

· Run a base look that can steal 1st downs

· Confuse and slow down an opponent’s rush

· Kick a difficult ball that is not often fielded and results in all net punt

· Negate lack of hang time by elongated snap to kick time


Punt Return

· PLAY DEFENSE ON 4th DOWN!!!!

· Explosive plays are made by pressuring the punter into mistakes or poor kicks.

· Cover eligible players, be sound against fakes

· Do not allow opponents to gain the HIDDEN YARDS!!!


Kickoff

· Hardest blocks in the game are on KOR, make the tough blocks tougher!

· Slow down a return teams count

· Force teams to cover full field or risk a stolen possession

· Use leverage to our advantage to create wider rush lanes


Kickoff Return

· Slow a kickoff team down by changing who is blocking them and who is returning the ball

· Negate leverage advantages by good technique and the ability for our returners to take the ball anywhere

· Use a variety of finesse and thumping blocks to keep coverage soft

· Force opponents to GIVE US good field position


Extra Point/Field Goal

· Force teams to have to adjust to what we do

· Force teams to be sound in coverage


Extra Point/Field Goal Block

· Pressure their weak spots or operation time

· Cover eligible and be sound against fakes and fire

It is from these fundamental philosophies, that I have built my schemes, techniques, and wrinkles.


Give your Players Ownership

Once you have your philosophies and scheme in order, the most important part of creating a special teams identity is buy-in from your players.  There are two major schools of thought when it comes to filling the depth chart on specials.  The first is playing your best players.  This works because your best players are your best players for a reason, they can get the job done.  In this case, your starters can take a play to rest on O/D because usually your 2nd stringers on offense/defense get more reps than the 2nd string special teamers.

The second is giving an opportunity to your up and coming youngsters and veteran non-starters.  I like getting young guys caught up to the speed of the game and giving someone who’s worked hard in your program the opportunity to get on the field.  I think the right answer is probably somewhere in between.  The one thing I do know is the guys you tip your hat to have to take pride in being on special teams, whether they play 6 snaps or 60.

No one goes to Alabama to be on the punt team.  One of the ways you can have guys take pride in being on special teams is perks.  For instance, special team starters eat first, 4/4 special teamers get a limited T-Shirt, helmet stickers, or anything else you can think of.  If you are a program that does not have the funding to incentivize with gifts, it will take a little creative excellence.  Allow the players to create their identity or rallying cry.  There are plenty of teams that call their special teams “Special Forces” and deem each unit a branch of the military.  When I was in college, our Kickoff team called themselves the “Headbustas” and the song Headbustas by Lil Jon played as we lined up.  Here at Akron, our special teams are called the Shadow Warriors and we have a creed we start our meetings with.  When you give your players something to rally around, especially when they create it themselves, the camaraderie is contagious.


I also believe you need to incentivize your look teams.  First, I do not believe in the term scout team.  This is a Development Team!  3’s and 4’s on the depth are expected at meetings learning both their unit and the opponent’s tendencies.  They are expected to play their position and develop.  Attendance for meetings is mandatory.  If they miss without contact, their repercussions are no different than for 1’s and 2’s.  For us, that means dropping in the depth.  We make it clear a Development Player can become a starter in one meeting!  It builds accountability from starters and lets our backups see the light at the end of the tunnel.  When players know they are still being evaluated, they are more willing to work hard.  I also believe if you are a program that can give out T-Shirts, food, etc., your development guys need to get the most love.  They are the future of your program.  They are preparing your current starters.  They need to feel a part of it!