Special Teams Drills - Coverage Man - Tech Manual - WP

The Best Weekly Special Teams Fundamental Drills To Improve Coverage

At The Citadel we dedicate thirty minutes early in the week to continue the development of our special team’s fundamentals & coverage techniques.  This thirty minute time frame we place in our Sunday evening practice.  The thirty-minute block is split into six five minute periods.  During these six periods, all six phases of our special teams will have various forms of skill development.

Period 1 (FG/PAT, Hands Team and Kick-Off Return Sky Kicks) 5 Minutes

FG/PAT: Skill Development and Situations

The FG/PAT Unit has personnel preference over all other drills going on at this time.  During this time we revisit all of our protection techniques.

  • Step up and in
  • Punch with both hands
  • Stay square and keep our eyes up
  • Always remember it is a TWO SECOND FIGHT

The situations we visit at this time are:

  • Fire Call: Mishandled snap that we can still field and attempt to convert for two points
  • Ice Call: A snap that is off the mark and there is no possible conversion of two points for us. All eleven on the unit are turning to run and down the ball and preventing the block unit being able to convert the errant operation for two points.
  • Any fakes/shifts that we may have alive or going in the upcoming week.

RELATED ARTICLE: Dominating With Four Verticals 

Hands Team

During this drill, we will have all of our front line hands team on the appropriate left or right side with a kicker dedicated to each side kicking onside kicks at each side.  During this time we will remind each person on our hands unit their reminders.

Hands Team Reminders

  • Full Unit Stance Reminders
    • Great stance with eyes, shoulders, hips, and toes pointing at the ball with our palms facing the ball ready. Great bend is occurring in our ankles, knees, and hips.
    • All eleven must be able to see the ball. Do not align ourselves behind another hands team member.
  • Front Line Reminders
    • If the ball is hit to me look to field it cleanly and get down. Recover this kick like a fumble on defense. If we field it we win the game.  If we get a big bounce we teach our guys to utilize the fair catch signal whenever possible.
    • If the ball is NOT hit to me I must go get the corresponding cover guy. Our L5 is responsible for the coverage unit’s L5. Do not watch the ball.
  • Back Line Reminders
    • Always put yourself in position to see the ball tee’d up to kick.
    • If the ball is hit to me look to field it cleanly and get down. Recover this kick like a fumble on defense. If we field it, we win the game.  If we get a big bounce we teach our guys to utilize the fair catch signal whenever possible.
    • The second line must know that they are the last line of the hands team and if the ball gets by them they must turn and chase.
    • If the front line recovers the kick the second line will be responsible for covering the recoverer up and protecting the ball from any unnecessary hits. We teach the second guy to form a “T” on the ball recoverer, must be perpendicular to them.
  • Full Unit Recovery Reminders
    • The sideline is our 12th man. If there is a threat of not being able to recover the ball clean we must get the ball out of bounds.

RELATED ARTICLE: Developing Exceptional Kickers And Punters

Kick-Off Return Team Sky Kicks

During our Sky Kick Drill, we will have all of our Ends and Full Backs on our Kick-Off Return unit in position to catch sky kicks off of a JUGS/Snap Attack machine.  Our coach that handles our kick-off returners handles our Ends and Full Backs.

Sky Kick Recovery Reminders

  • If you have to move forward we will utilize our fair catch signal.
  • The most important thing is to field the kick and get the ball back to our offense.
  • Stay aware of the communication coming from the returner (Fire, Short, etc…)

Period 2 (Kick-Off Return Unit Front Line and Back Line Fundamentals) 5 Minutes

During Period Two we break our Kick-Off Return Unit into two pods, our front six and our back five.  Each pod has a live kicker kicking kicks forcing all eleven to react to a live kick each rep.

Front Six Fundamentals
  • Great stance with eyes, shoulders, hips, and toes pointing at the ball with our palms facing the ball ready. Great bend is occurring in our ankles, knees, and hips.
  • We must see the ball hit deep. We will sneak a surprise onside during this drill to ensure they are staying in until the ball is kicked deep.
  • Once the ball is kicked deep our front six will work their drop to the area the ball was kicked and must gain or maintain the appropriate leverage for the return we have called. Deep left kick= a drop angle to the left side of the field.
  • When we get to the maximum depth of our drop we will get our shoulders and hips to our cover guy that we are responsible for. We want to keep our hips and shoulders closed (square to the yard lines) while tracking our cover guy.
  • We teach our guys to step with our near foot to the midline of the cover guy with our eyes under the coverage guy’s chin and punching the clips of his shoulder pads. Once contact is made we will drive our feet.
  • We finish this drill with a whistle that represents us breaking the return and our front six attach themselves to the near hip and look to keep the coverage man on a vertical line.
Back Five Fundamentals
  • Great stance with eyes, shoulders, hips and toes pointing at the ball with our palms facing the ball ready. Great bend is occurring in our ankles, knees and hips.
  • We must see the ball hit deep and work our drop to the area the ball was kicked.
  • Our Ends are looking to gain or maintain the appropriate leverage for the return we have called.
  • Our Fullback is looking to locate the returner and hit the appropriate depth from the returner depending on the return called.
  • Our Returners are working communication and whichever returner is the off returner is looking to locate the Fullback, seeing the kick secured and giving a “GO”.

Period 3 and the First Half of Period 4 (Kick-Off Cover Circuit) 7.5 Minutes

Our Kick-off Coverage Circuit is broken down to three different drills.  These three drills are to simulate the different phases of the kick-off coverage (Flying 40, Contact Zone and Finish).

Butt-Side Drill (Flying 40)

We look to avoid both return guys on the butt side of their body.  This drill works across the field.  We start the cover guy on the bottom of the numbers and place both return guys on each hash looking in opposite directions and we use a tackle ring to finish the drill.  We preach taking a shot across the body of the returner when getting down the field untouched.

Coaching Points
  • Avoiding Butt Side
    • We look to stab front side and avoid butt side
    • We dip our shoulder and tell them to untie the return man’s shoe
    • Once we have avoided we must get back into the stacked position
  • Finish
    • We are looking to aim for the far hip and force the returner to either make a drastic change in direction or stop their feet.

Press and Pop-Off Drill (Contact Zone)

We place the returner in phase with a back line blocker (5-10 yards from each other).  The coverage man starts 5 yards from the back line blocker.  This drill is to simulate the last ten to fifteen yards of the coverage of kick-offs.  We will attack the blocker with violent hands and hot feet.  We are looking to drive the blocker to the returner.  When engaged with the blocker we must keep our eyes and leverage to the returner.  The only time we will reverse our leverage is when the returner crosses our face.  Once the returner defines the return we will disengage and “pop off” to make the tackle to the returner.

This drill stresses the last 5 yards of coverage.  The play side coverage man responsibility is to cut the returner off and take a shot on the near hip of the returner.  While taking a shot on the near hip of the returner we are setting an edge on the return.  The backside coverage man will keep the returner inside and in front and know that the play side gunner will funnel the returner back to him.  The backside coverage man must keep his hips and shoulders square.

The Second of half of Period 4 and Period 5 (Punt Return Unit) 7.5 Minutes

The Punt Return technique is broken down into two parts, at the line of scrimmage and down the field.

Line Of Scrimmage Hold-Up Drill (3.5 Minutes)

Each return man will align over a coverage man with proper leverage (based on return called).

Our success starts with our stance and alignment pre-snap.

Pre-Snap Coaching Points

Stance Coaching Points

  • Our near foot to the defender is dropped back. We want to have great bend in our ankles, knees, and hips and our chest is tight to our thigh. We must have our up foot behind the tip of the ball and our nose is going to stay behind our toes to ensure we do not align in the neutral zone. Our hands are in a striking position and we will have our eyes on the ball ready to react as soon as we see the ball move.  WE WANT TO SHOW RUSH DEMEANOR.

Alignment

  • We will align with our near foot on the coverage man’s near foot. We want to stay in a comfortable alignment that will allow us to step to the man’s midline.
Post-Snap Coaching Points

Eyes

  • Once we see the ball move we will snap our eyes from ball to coverage man’s near hip.

Footwork

  • We want our first step to the midline of the coverage man.
  • Our second step is to the near hip of the coverage man. This second step should create a great base.
  • The key with our feet is to keep them active and keep attacking the defender. “DRIVE FOR FIVE!!!”

Upper body

  • We will punch far number and near number. Punch to grab. We will keep our eyes underneath the coverage man’s chin to ensure the proper pad level.  We teach our guys to meet pressure with pressure as the coverage man looks to release the line of scrimmage.

We break this drill into three steps:

  1. Great stance, great alignment and we will snap the ball. We want to just see eyes snap from ball to coverage man’s near hip.
  2. Great stance, great alignment and we will snap the ball. We now want to see eyes to snap from ball to near hip along with taking our first two steps and punching the far and near numbers. Check pad level by reminding the return man to keep his eyes under the chin of the coverage man.
  3. Great stance, great alignment and we will snap the ball. We now want to see eyes to snap from ball to near hip along with taking our first two steps and punching the far and near numbers. Check pad level by reminding the return man to keep his eyes under the chin of the coverage man.  We then will give a second command to allow the coverage man to attempt to escape the line of scrimmage.  The reminder we must constantly give is not to reach and work your feet as much as your upper body.

Down The Field Technique Drill (3.5 Minutes)

We teach two techniques that our players can use as we work down the field, the sit and fit and the box out technique.  Both techniques start in our proper trail position, an arm’s reach away from the return side hip.  We start the drill with a command that allows the coverage man to work down the field to the returner and then the coach gives a command for the coverage man to drop his hip, which simulates him attempting to make a play on the returner.  As we trail the coverage guy we must coach our players to keep their eyes on the near hip of the coverage man.

Sit and Fit Technique Coaching Points

Keys

  • We see the coverage man’s hip either drops or gets closer to us.

Upper body

  • Our near hand is going to punch the near hip of the coverage man
  • Our far hand is going to punch the far number of the coverage man
  • We want to keep our nose over toes to stay under control and keep our eyes under the coverage man’s chin to maintain a good pad level.
Box Out Technique Coaching Points

Keys

  • We see the coverage man’s hip either drops or gets closer to us.

Upper body

  • Our near hand is going to punch the far number of the coverage man
  • Our near hip is going to drive into the coverage man’s near hip.
  • We want to keep our hip pressing into the coverage man’s at all time, separation is not our friend with this technique.
Period 6 (Punt Unit) 5 Minutes

During this five minute period, we look to coach the coverage aspect to our punt unit and our gunners work the down the field technique to down a punt inside the ten-yard line.

Down the Field Coverage Drill

This drill is meant to stress the coverage of the body of our Punt unit (everyone but our gunners).  The field side of the unit is looking to put an edge on the return and the sideline side of the unit is keeping the returner inside and in front while keeping our shoulders and hips square.  If the return punctures we will look to fold.

Pooch Punt Drill

This drill stresses the coverage of the gunners in a pooch punt situation.  They must sprint to the goal line and flip their hips and get their eyes to the sky.  We are looking to catch the ball in the air and down the ball inside the five-yard line.  The key here is to communicate the direction of the punt.  The way we will communicate direction is to talk by name and/or in third person.  Simply stating “ME” does not communicate to the others as to which direction the punt has been hit.  This also provides ample opportunities for our punters to hit pooch punts.

J.P. Gunter has been on staff at The Citadel since 2010 and currently serves as A-Backs coach and special teams coordinator. Gunter joined the staff as a graduate assistant working with the special teams in 2010. He spent the previous year as the offensive line coach, running game coordinator and special teams coordinator at Pikeville College (KY), where he actively recruited student-athletes from eight states. Gunter spent the 2007 season as a graduate assistant at Lenoir-Rhyne, his alma mater, coaching the offensive line and tight ends. The following year, he was the outside linebackers coach, camp coordinator and academic liaison. A native of Irmo, South Carolina, Gunter earned his bachelor’s degree in sports management with a minor in business administration from Lenoir-Rhyne in 2007. He completed his graduate certification in sports administration from The Citadel in 2011. Gunter and his wife, Megan, have one son, Turner.


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Comments 1

  1. Good article overall, however one error:

    Hands Team on Onside Kick Recovery Team…

    ”If we get a big bounce we teach our guys to utilize the fair catch signal whenever possible.”

    If the ball gets a ”big bounce”, then it has been driven into the ground by the kicker causing that bounce. If this is the case, then the Return Team cannot call a fair catch, as the ball has already hot the ground.

    The only time you’d have the return team call a fair catch in this situation is on a pooch kick, which is a very high, very short, kick-off, with the ball kicked as a normal KO off the tee.

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