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:
· 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
· 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!!!
· 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
· 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!
Build a Solid Teaching Progression
Coming to Akron I was not sure what to expect. Having been a STC at the D3 level for several years, I did not know if I would be over my head at the FBS level. Since I have been here, I realized that football is still football. But one of the things I can really improve on and I think Coach Hurd, our STC here at Akron, is so elite at is building a solid teaching progression.
During day one install Coach Hurd does not touch scheme. He teaches the fundamentals of the technique. He breaks down each aspect of the technique into its simplest form and concentrates on mastery before moving onto the next phase. Day one practice, we will not just jump into Kickoff Return drops. We work the stance, the set up. We work building a base. We work keeping our leverage against an opponent. We do all this before we ever take a full practice drop. And we do that before we do it on air and then eventually against a look team. You do this for any of your position groups, why wouldn’t you for special teams? Do not take for granted what you think your players know and can do. Teach them, coach them, drill them like they have no background in what you are working. You may have a safety that has never gotten in a 3-point stance or a running back who has never made a tackle, they need to learn those fundamentals.
You must be efficient both on the field and in the classroom because we all know that special teams are not afforded as much time as offense or defense. Be prepared and utilize playlists. I am big on drills and techniques that translate to other aspects of the game. I try to incorporate those movements or teaching points as much as possible. You also need to speak the same language as the D staff or O staff when you coach up those crossover techniques. The more you can make their movements natural and reiterate the same coaching cues the more likely they will use them.
Dedicate time to working on the details. Steal time when you can either in Pre-practice or run some indy the first few minutes of special teams’ periods. But by having a solid teaching progression that is repeatable your players are more likely to build the muscle memory necessary to make your units successful.
Creating a fundamental philosophy is imperative, you will lay a blueprint for your units, your scheme, your calls, and your game plan. By giving your players ownership, they will internalize your philosophy and adopt it as their own. They will take pride in their jobs and do it to the best of their ability. When you create a clear and strong progression for teaching, your players will be armed with a toolbox of techniques and cues that will help them execute. By doing these things, you will create a unique and effective special teams identity that will lead to overall team success. If you have any questions or would just like to talk ball, I’m always available!
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