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.
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 an 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.
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.
Here Coach Curran, the defensive coordinator at Conway High School demonstrates the fake punt.
Source: The Complete Punt Game Course
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!
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.
Here Coach Mike Famiglietti, Offensive Coordinator at Kansas Wesleyan University explains the hang time.
Source: Easy Drills to Improve Your Punt Team Course
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?
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.
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.
The nice thing about the punter’s 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.
Here Legendary NFL kicker Jon Carney shows his favorite punting workouts.
Source: Kick, Punt and Train like a Pro Course
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!
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.