A good kick return can equal great field position.
Special teams are not merely a key to a football team's success. They are crucial. As Hall-of-Fame coach George Allen noted, the kicking game is a full 1/3 of your team's season. The kicking game can reverse the outcome of a game often on a single play.
Here are four things to keep in mind when it's time to build a strong special-teams unit:
Find Great Players
Great special teams begin with great special-teams players. These players often distinguish themselves in practice. They are the ones who leave their feet in order to make a play. They are the ones that other less-energetic players often complain about as being over zealous. They love contact. They chase every play.
They don't need to have exceptional speed, size, or quickness. What they already have far outweighs any shortcomings in those areas.
Find Time in Practice
The more prominent special teams play, the more an opponent must take up valuable practice time to counteract it. In an effort to maximize special-teams performance, I will incorporate special-teams preparation with conditioning. In this manner, special teams can be practiced each and every day.
Rather than have players run a high repetition of laps (where many linemen tend to be less than enthusiastic or energetic), a coach could run a high number of kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts, and punt returns. Your players get in shape, and the time is spent more productively killing two birds with one stone.
Outwork Your Opponent
Many teams are lax in their devotion to the kicking game and special-teams play in general. This despite a contemporary trend recognizing the valuable contribution special teams can make to a game, often even breaking open or deciding a close game. Without surprise, those teams willing to spend valuable practice time devoted to special teams are the very ones who most often benefit from it.
Special teams should be addressed each and every day of practice. Punts, punt returns, kickoffs, kickoff returns, field goals and extra points can all be incorporated into the daily conditioning rituals. The day before a game, special teams can be given extensive coverage in full pads with zero contact.
When a team is trailing by two points and declines to attempt a 40-yard field goal--opting instead to go for a fourth-and-eight situation from an opponent's 23-yard line--the message is clear. The kicking game is inadequate. There is a chink in the armor.
This deficiency is always self-inflicted. There is always at least one player on a squad capable of kicking the football. The team's inability to kick the go-ahead field goal in the scenario above reveals the coaching staff's ineffectiveness in finding, training, and utilizing this player.
A team so uncommitted to the basic necessities such as a simple field goal is likely to be deficient in other special-teams areas as well. It is against just such a team that I will feel confident to try my highly practiced and prepared special plays. In other words, such a scenario is ideal for going for the fake kick or blocked-kick attempt. The reasoning is simple: If my opponent has prepared so little for their own field-goal team, how much have they prepared for my multi-threat special teams play? I like my chances.