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How to Master the Punter Position


Punters don’t always get a lot of love, but having one that

can provide dividends to your team can create significant

advantages.

Unfortunately, more often than not, the only times a punter gets his

name mentioned is when he makes a mistake. For this reason, punter’s

errors are often magnified, while their successes are viewed as

something that’s expected. Despite this, I urge you to not underestimate

the punter. In this article, I’ll take a deeper look into the qualities of a

punter, as well as the responsibilities associated with the position.

Consistency

One of the first things coaches analyze in regards to punters is the

concept of consistency. The only time punters are on the field is plays

where they’ll be directly involved. With this being the case, they need to

execute each and every time. Failure to properly perform your task will

lead to an immediate advantage to your opposition and possibly even a

shift in momentum of the entire game. Feels like a decent amount of

pressure for a player that many jokingly say isn’t even a true football

player? With consistency being so vital, punters need to take advantage

of practice time just as regular position players would. Practice with the

long snapper is vital to ensure there will be no issues come game time.

As a side note, it’s always good to study consistent NFL kickers. These

guys are doing it in high-pressure situations and a select few show

consistency over long time periods. One of these is John Carney, who

played over 20 NFL seasons. This course here from CoachTube provides

helpful hints from the NFL vet.

Field Position Battle

Football can at times be a game of field position. I’ll start off here with a

brief numbers example. If a team averages starting on their own 15,

then they have to go 85 yards for a touchdown and 55 to get a shot at a

field goal attempt. Meanwhile, if their opposition begins on their own

30, they only have 70 yards to hit pay dirt and 40 for a field goal try.

This 15 yard difference can have immense impact on the game. Unless

you have a high-powered, highly-efficient offense, then chances are only

a couple of possessions will have a shot at resulting in points.

Going off the example above, there will be possessions that result in 3-

and-outs. This means you’ll be punting from deep inside your own

territory. Here is where the punter comes into play. The punter can

essentially change the whole dynamics of field position with one strong

punt. Whereas a weak punter might give the ball to the opposition

around midfield, a strong punter could force the opponent to start

around their own 30.

Fake Punt

Punters tend to get a bad rap in football. People consider them one of

the few non-athletes on the field. However, coaches have learned they

can utilize this sometimes misperceived assumption to their advantage.

As with kickers, a decent amount of punters are former soccer players

and may possess the athleticism needed to fool the opposition. One area

where this athleticism can be used is with fake punts. This trick play is

traditionally done in 4th-and-5 or shorter. Additionally, it gives the

punter the option to throw a pass downfield or tuck it if there is space

open.

Despite the benefits it can provide, I want to remind you that athleticism

is far down the list when coaches go to evaluate potential punter

candidates. However, that doesn’t mean coaches and punters shouldn’t

prepare themselves in case the situation is right come game time. For all

teams, I recommend squeezing a play or two into practice every few

days so you have it in the playbook. It may only be pulled out a time or

two all season, but it’s nice to have it in your back pocket!

Hang Time

In order to fit the mold of a consistent punter, you need to have

excellent hang time. Simply put, hang time is the amount of time that the

ball is in the air before starting to descend. The better the hang time, the

better chance your coverage team has to get down the field and stop the

returner from having a good return. Even if you can punt it really far,

unless there is significant hang time, then the opposition will have time

to set up blocks and produce a decent return.

Pinning the Opponent

Think about a scenario where your team is down 7 points with five

minutes left and starting the drive from inside your own five. Sounds

like a daunting task, right? I don’t care how good your offense is,

starting a drive from that deep can be a challenging task for any offense.

Since it is so challenging to move the ball that far, one of the best ways

to put your opposition in that position is to pin them there with a punt.

This skill doesn’t just require a punter with a strong leg, but also one

with an accurate leg. In the NFL, analysts typically judge punters with

stats like inside the 20 punts. If you’re punting from midfield, it doesn’t

do you a whole lot of good to kick it into the end zone and result in a

touchback. A more positive result would be to punt it with solid hang

time that forces the punter to fair catch inside their own 20 or 10. As I

alluded to earlier, this can be a huge momentum shifter and allow the

defense to line up some blitzes.

Rugby Style or Traditional?

Rugby-Style

One of the two techniques used in punting is rugby-style. Here, the

punter will receive the snap and immediately run towards the sideline.

This will give him time to view the rush and decide where would be the

best place to kick the ball. If the pass rush is taking a while to break

through, the punter can hold onto the ball an extra second or two to let

the coverage unit get down the field.

Traditional

The majority of teams opt to implement a more traditional style of

punting. This more orthodox approach involves the punter receiving the

snap and punting the ball without moving laterally. Depending on the

talent level of the punter, this approach can give the return team a

better opportunity to get a decent return.

Drills

The nice thing about the punter is position is the fact that all you really

need is a long snapper and a football to get some work in. With this said,

there are plenty of drills available that allow the punter to develop the

skills listed above.

Consistency

A nice drill available for developing consistent habits is one that works

solely on fundamentals. In fact, it doesn’t even involve you punting the

ball. You’ll want to line up on one specific yard line on the field. Then

receive the snap and take the normal stride straight forward before

dropping the ball like you’re going to punt it. The ball should hit about

directly on the line with the nose facing slightly in and down. As I’ve

continuously mentioned, consistency is critical!

Game Situation

Just like any athlete, it’s nice to get in some practice that mimics what it

will feel like in an actual game. This is why I encourage coaches to

practice with an 11-man rush and a return man. In doing so, the coach

or another player should time the punts and look to improve on get-off

and hang-times. At the same time, having a returner allows the punter

to understand where his coverage is strongest at.

More Mental than Physical

The punter is one position that tends to be very mental. While the

physical traits are important, one or two mental miscues from a punter

can easily result in points for the opposition. Due to this, punters need

to continuously be visualizing positive punts. This will put you in a

better mental mindset come game-time and create greater levels of

confidence in one’s own abilities.