Kick Off Return Starts With A Formation
By FirstDown PlayBook on Oct 19, 2017

This is a re-publication of a coaches community post we did back in 2015. It remains as relevant today as it did back then when it comes to coaching your kickoff return unit.

Football coaches take great pride in their demand for attention to detail. A fraction of a second here or six inches there has cost many of us a football game. Walk out onto any practice field and you will hear a coach demanding that the quarterback take a five step drop without a hitch as opposed to the hitch that will throw the timing off for that pass play. On the other end of the field it is likely that you will hear a defensive line coach demanding a six (not a seven) inch first step when the ball is snapped.

Then the horn blows and we start our special teams period. Kickoff Return is the emphasis of the day. No other play in football takes up more field and has to be executed in this much space as a Kickoff Return, yet all of the attention to detail often goes out the door.

Most Kickoff Returns are doomed before the returner takes his first step with the ball or before any of his blockers ever make contact with the coverage team. Why? A Kickoff Return is nothing more than an offensive play in space. All offensive plays start with a formation and a Kickoff Return is no different. No formation…no play.

Imagine trying to run a lead play on offense with your fullback at 14 yards and your tailback at 18 yards. No way right? Well if you watch enough Kickoff Return units you will see it all of the time.

bad offensive play

TailBack At 18 Yards? Don’t Think So.

Before you do anything else with your Kickoff Return unit make sure that your players understand that you are creating an offensive formation. This formation is a snapshot of all eleven players at the point when and where the returner catches the ball and is taking his first step up the field. Give the unit clear and definitive spots to be on the field when you take this snapshot then demand that they get there.

Like a lot of things in football there can’t be eleven chiefs out there. The players on the front line in some ways are independent contractors that must rely on the flight of the ball and the location of the returner but it is critical that they drop and flip their hips based on the ball and returner as he starts up field.


In this six man front return unit the call end and fullback are critical to creating an offensive formation. On the return above the call end must set up at a depth 14 yards in front and two yards to the return side from where the Returner catches the ball. The right end must find the call end. No excuses. When the ends form a two man wedge their eyes get back to the coverage unit. They are not looking at the returner.

The fullback needs to be your leader on this unit. Not only must he understand the scheme but he also must be a great communicator. He is your coach on the field if you will. His positioning will change up based on individual returns because you are always trying to find a way to get him on the front side of the return if you can. If the coverage unit has a threat away from the side of the return then he must secure this and give the play a chance to get started.

His additional responsibility is to eye ball the Returner and give everyone a “Go” call when he catches the ball. Once again the positioning of the formation is only part of it. The positions are based on everyone on the back part of the return starting to their blocks at the same time just as an offense goes on a snap count.

Finally, the most important thing of all may be that when the fullback says “Go” everyone GOES! A great offensive lineman doesn’t think about where his running back is on a run play nor does the back look to see if the block is going to be made before hitting the hole. This is no different. Everyone must do their job and the Returner must hit the return full speed where he is supposed to hit it or the blockers have little to no chance. Every return is a leap of faith on the part of all eleven players.

It is your job as a coach to break your return down for your team and explain how it all fits together. They are all offensive and or defensive players so creating a formation will make sense to them. About the time that your returner spits one into the second level and is one on one with the kicker it will make sense to you too.

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