By Travis Burkett, Running Backs Coach, UNLV
The kickoff remains one of the most pivotal plays in football. All coaches hope recruit and develop a kicker that can kick the ball through the end zone on a regular basis. However, even with the rule change moving the kickoff spot to the 35 yard line, this may not always be the case.
Cornell University uses a base method to teach block-destruction to our entire special teams personnel. It is important to understand the following fundamental tools before inserting them into the kickoff or adding different and specific techniques.
Cornell Special Teams Block Destruction Continuum
- The best way to destroy a block when covering a kick or punt is to run in a straight line past your opponent without breaking stride directly to the football.
- The only way to truly destroy a block regardless of the tool used is to stack the blocker vertically.
- In general, when covering a kickoff or punt, the tools of block-destruction progress from the best/simplest tool to worst/most difficult, in direct relation to how far you are away from the ball vertically.
The steps or tools of the Block-destruction Continuum all have corresponding drill-work and are taught and drilled before mentioning kickoffs or punts. Although there is carryover directly from here to the Kickoff Progression, laying a general fundamental foundation separately in block-destruction is imperative before applying the tools specifically to kickoffs or punts, let alone beginning to touch on positional responsibilities or unit schemes within either.
Understanding The Progression
To understand and apply the Kickoff Block-destruction Progression, coaches must only learn on schematic concept within the scheme.
Our coaches number our people from left to right 1-10 (not including the kicker) and keep the ball through the entire play between the 5 and 6. Numbers 1-5 will always keep the ball as tight as possible to their right shoulder and the 6-10 will always keep the ball as tight as possible to their left shoulder
Everyone on the field must relate to the ball both horizontally and vertically.
Here, coaches will see the Kickoff Block Destruction Progression explained and diagramed for drill-work based on kicking from the 35 yard line to the goal line, without regard to the opponent’s overall scheme or any obvious man keys.
Cornell Special Teams Kickoff Block Destruction Progression
The first step on kickoff is the “Getoff through Laser” phase which takes place from the 35 and hopefully continues uninterrupted through the collision of what we call a “Fit” tackle.
Before we can get to Getoff, we have the “Takeoff” phase, which takes place from the 30 to 35 yard lines. At “Getoff,” a sprint from the 35 yard line carries the squad at full speed through hopefully tackle.
Once the kickoff unit has tracked the football and lasered their path accordingly, they will immediately encounter blockers. Players should stay in their lane relative to the football regardless of the nature or depth of the block.
This principle is simply and safely applied when in a vertical region of between 50 and 25 yards away from the football
A “Waggle” is a violent full-speed movement that is used by the kickoff defender to evade the opponent block without breaking stride. We always “stem and stick” away from where we eventually want to go and then “dip and drive” the direction we intend to end up.
As mentioned earlier, “stacking the block” or getting “front to back” are general block-destruction keys but are especially important when implementing a waggle as the slightest shove or grab from the side by the opponent can drastically change the course of the kickoff defender and force the attack out of relation to the football.
As players decrease the vertical distance from the football and complete a “front-line waggle,” the game changes. Not only are the kickoff defenders and opponent blockers moving, but so is the ball, thus severely decreasing the amount of time to determine where they are and what tool to use.
This is why from 25 to 15 yards away from the football, coaches must force all but the most advanced players to “Waggle Frontdoor or Buttside” which translates to waggling towards the ball or to a blatant man-key from the opponent scheme.
Again, skill-level of the individual player is crucial to understand; until a player can track and re-track the ball that is now moving, we force them to waggle buttside, which in the case of drill-work for this progression is also the way the ball will be moving.
We feel that if you have a Unit on the whole that is still waggling blocks between 25 and 15 yards away from the football, the kickoff team will have a chance to be highly successful in both kickoff-return-yardage-defense and the all-important opponent-drive-start-average categories.
Kickoff defenders must make contact with proper leverage on any opponent blocker from 15 to 5 yards away from the ball. Of course, we will never fault a player for running through an open lane and making a big tackle. However, the cardinal rule is: If you have to think, engage.
Engaging The Enemy
Engaging in this area is crucial and the key coaching point is to still maintain full speed. In this vertical zone, players must “Punch and Shrug” or “Punch and Rip.” Both must be done while maintaining constant leg movement, gaining upper body separation, and keeping the head out of contact.
The Punch and Shrug is a double-arm engagement with the punch violently shocking the blocker back and up while grabbing cloth. The shrug allows the defender to disengage when he throws the blocker down and away from the direction of the ball.
The Punch and Rip is a tool that we teach in fundamental block-destruction that our players can implement on kickoff.
A “Bully” is essentially a punch with no disengagement. When our kickoff people are from 5 to 0 yards away from the ball, the only tool allowed is the bully. In close quarters like these, use speed and the violence of the punch to make the tackle without disengaging until the last possible instant.
When bullying, players must physically knock the blocker back into the returner. Along with other bullyers, players can then come off and make a tackle on the returner surrounded by the enemy with only one way left to go.
As with punch and shrug, the key to this tool is to trust in the acceleration of the feet and know that in this type of proximity, the returner will eventually come to you if you stay square and thick on the block.
Kickoff Block-destruction Progressive Drill
By drilling this entire progression at one time, coaches can give every single member special teams one repetition to each side.
Cornell Special Teams Kickoff Block Destruction Drill
In conjunction with this, when the defenders disengage off of their punch and shrug, it should marry up with the buttside and the way the ballcarrier is going.
- The line of extra players is behind the first kickoff defender and rotates up toward that line. Another way to say it is the defender becomes the ball carrier and on down the line.
- Use as many lines as necessary to have no more than two players waiting in each line.
- The drill must be done horizontally on the field to use the solid yard lines and filmed from the back of the ball carriers. The lines measure your kickoff defenders’ ability to “stack the block” and “get front to back.” This is the single most important skill to measure in your personnel through this drill.
- Other key things to measure include contact courage, ability to maintain full speed, desire to make a play at the finish.
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