Shrink The Field On Kickoff Coverage

By FirstDown PlayBook on Oct 5, 2019
FirstDown PlayBook Special Teams

Whenever we see a team kickoff and the ball ends up anywhere close to the middle of the field we cringe. Let’s face it space is not the coverage team’s friend. The best athlete on the field is about to have the ball in his hands. Your kickoff  team is still 20 yards away from him. If you can shrink the field on the kickoff return team the odds are going to greatly improve for you and your kickoff coverage.

First let’s talk about the kickoff team’s alignment. Who cares if they know where you are going to kick it? This only matters if you feel like you can line up balanced and kick it away from a special returner. You are normally better off just making sure your coverage team restricts the field with their initial alignment. This also shortens the trip down the field in the process. One of the first college teams we saw do this very well were Urban Meyer coached Ohio State teams.

Another big coaching point for any coverage team is that you cover the football and not the field. How many times have you seen a kickoff where the coverage team has everyone in their lanes. However, the returner creases them, making about half of the coverage team irrelevant. Many of the cover guys are nowhere near the football.

Of course you will have landmarks as you begin down the field. At the point where the ball direction is revealed then go cover the football! The ball should be covered with the proper leverage principles as are indicated in the diagram below. If you call a deep left kickoff and the ball ends up in the middle, everyone needs to adjust. Your defenders need to cover the ball applying their leverage principles in the process.

Rover Kickoff Coverage

If you want to gain an extra man to the football you can also send an extra defender to the ball with a “rover” call. This should be one of your more intuitive players who can diagnose what is going on as he runs full sped to cover. There will always be at least one key you can give him that will tell him to trigger as the Rover or stay in his normal coverage lane. A lot of times safeties are pretty good at this because they are used to diagnosing things on the move and they are ball hawks who can tackle.

Obviously if you do this there is some coaching that has to go on with the R2 and R4 as their contain and shoulder leverage responsibilities become even more critical with this approach. The contain principle of “deep as the returner, never deeper” is in full force here and it is important that they understand that a well coached return team is going to try to capitalize on their lack of discipline to get away from the numbers mismatch at the point of attack. Only your most disciplined players should be trusted with these assignments.

Remember That Your Kickoff Coverage Is A Defensive Play

Kickoff coverage is a defensive play and should be looked at as such. You wouldn’t be happy if as a defensive coach had to play every play from the middle of the field. The same thing applies here. Shrink the field and put some of the accountability on your kicker. Covering with speed and toughness will still be as important as anything you coach on this team. However, you will be surprised at how much faster your team will play when you cut down the field.

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