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hile it is certainly true that every play is

Diagram 2: Two Funnel System

important during a football game, a
kickoff is, by nature, one of the most impor-
tant. Every offensive coach agonizes over
finding ways to get the ball to his best ath-
lete in the open field. The kickoff provides a Coverage
built-in opportunity to do just that, so it is
imperative that the kicking team do every-
thing possible to limit the opportunity for a
big play that can result in a touchdown or
great field position for the offense.
It seems that every year, more and more
teams are “squib” kicking or “pooch” kick-
ing the ball to eliminate big returns. They
are willing to sacrifice field position in order
to avoid the potential for the big play. That
certainly is a sound concept, however, the assigned landmarks based on where we
deep kickoff gives the kicking team a are trying to kick the ball. Ideally, these
chance to pin the opponent deep in their landmarks will create relatively even spac-
own territory, something that is generally ing between coverage players (approxi-
not possible on squibs and pooch kicks. mately five-yard increments). Prior to the
For the purposes of this article I will focus kick, players should align five to eight yards
on covering balls kicked deep. off the free kick line, on their landmark and
in a two-point stance facing in at a 45-
Basic Kickoff Coverage System degree angle to the kicker.
We number our coverage players from
the inside out on each side of the kicker Landmarks are as follows:
from one to five respectively (Diagram 1). Middle Kick
L5 Four yards from sideline.
Diagram 1: Numbering Players
L4 Top of the numbers.
L3 Split the hash & numbers.
L2 On the hash.
L1 One yard inside the goal post.
R1 One yard inside the goal post.
R2 On the hash.
R3 Split the hash & numbers.
R4 Top of the numbers.
R5 Four yards from sideline.
Our kickoff coverage is based on a “two
funnel system.” After the ball is caught by Kick Left
the returner, we attempt to form a first fun- L5 Two yards from sideline.
nel with two force players (usually L4 and L4 Bottom of the numbers.
R4) acting as the “outer edges of the fun- L3 Three yards inside the numbers.
nel” and six lane players acting as the L2 Three yards outside the hash.
“points of the funnel.” Ideally, the force L1 Split the hash & goal post.
players will restrict the running lane to R1 Split the goal posts.
about five yards width and as many lane R2 Split the hash & goal post.
players as possible will fill the five yard lane R3 Three yards outside the hash.
(Diagram 2). R4 Two yards inside the numbers.
The safeties (usually L5 and R5) and the R5 Four yards from the sideline.
kicker will form the second funnel five yards
behind the first funnel, in case the returner Kick Right
breaks through. Ideally, the safeties will con- L5 Four yards from the sideline.
strict the running lane for the second funnel L4 Two yards inside the numbers.
to about two yards and the kicker will fill the L3 Three yards outside the hash.
two-yard lane (Diagram 2). L2 Split the hash & goal post.
L1 Split the goal post.
Alignment and Landmarks R1 Split the hash & goal post.
On each kickoff, coverage players are R2 Three yards outside the hash.
R3 Three yards inside the numbers. return team. Be ready for specific blocks Diagram 4: Ball Bounces Outside the
R4 Bottom of the numbers. based on their movement. Force Player
R5 Two yards from sideline. • If a front-five player attacks you, then
you should avoid him and then get back on
It is important that all coverage play- your landmark.
ers understand that the direction called • If the front five players drop, then find
in the huddle is only where we are the deep people to determine the flight of
attempting to kick the ball. Since the the ball and expect a wedge return. If the
kicker does not always kick the ball wedge develops, then be ready to squarely
where he is aiming, all players must take on the blockers.
react to where the ball is actually kicked • If you see a front five blocker go across
as they run down the field. to the opposite side, then expect a cross
blocking scheme.
Covering a Kick
Although coverage assignments for the Responsibilities after the Ball is Caught
kickoff team can be switched at times in 1. Force Players: As a force player, you
order to give the return team different are the outer edge of the first funnel. Your Diagram 5: Ball Breaks Through the
looks, in general L5 and R5 are safeties, L4 job is to constrict the running lane allowing First Funnel
and R4 are force players and L1, L2, L3, the lane players to make the tackle. After
R1, R2 and R3 are lane players. the ball is caught, squeeze to the ball and
The coaching of kickoff coverage players remain on the level of the returner after
can be broken down into three areas: attack- reaching ball depth. As the returner moves
ing the free kick line; responsibilities before up-field, you must work to stay on the same
the ball is caught; and responsibilities after level as the ball. This will prevent the
the ball is caught. The following are the returner from breaking outside your edge of
coaching points we use for coverage players the funnel while also preventing him from
in each phase of kickoff coverage: slipping between you and the lane players
(Diagram 3). Never take an uncontrolled
Attacking the Free Kick Line (FKL) shot at the returner, since the ball must be
Learn the nuances and steps of the kept inside the funnel at all costs.
kicker in order to ensure that you arrive at Diagram 3: Force Players Work With
the free kick line as close as possible to the the Ball you are always aiming at his near shoulder.
same time the ball is kicked. While we Never take a “cut-off angle” by aiming for
would like you to hit the free kick line at full where you think the returner is headed. Cut
speed and at the same time as the kicker, off angles just open cutback lanes for the
being at full speed is more important. I returner.
would rather have you at full speed and a If a blocker comes at you and the return-
step short of the free kick line than at the er is not threatening your lane, then avoid
free kick line but having to “stutter step” to the block to the ball side. Since each play-
avoid being offside when the ball is kicked. er whose lane is not being threatened will
Above all, do not be offside. avoid a block to the ball side, spacing
2. Safeties: The safeties’ responsibili- between lane players will be maintained
Responsibilities Before ties are similar to those of the force players (Diagram 6).
the Ball is Caught but are performed in the “second funnel.” Diagram 6: Avoid to the Ball
From the time the ball is kicked until it is Once the ball is caught, close in to the ball,
caught by the returner, you should run full “folding under the force” and establishing
speed on your landmark attempting to get “hold position” (five yards behind and two-
inside the opponent’s 40-yard line before yards outside the force player).
the ball is caught. Be sure to see the move- From hold position, if the returner
ment of the returners in order to determine bounces outside the force player, then
the path of the ball and to know when it is come up and make the tackle (Diagram 4);
caught. Never look up for the flight of the if he breaks through the first funnel, then
ball. close in as the outside edge of the second
If a blocker comes at you prior to the ball funnel and make the tackle (Diagram 5).
being caught, then avoid the block (to the 3. Lane Players: Once the ball is
easiest side) and return to your landmark caught, you are what we call “leverage on
as soon as possible. the ball,” i.e. you should aim for the near
When the ball is kicked, all lane players shoulder of the returner. As the returner
should key the five front-line blockers of the changes his path, you should adjust so that
If a blocker comes at you and the return- a seventh lane player, the safety becomes Force players should be among the best
er is threatening your lane, then take the the force player and we consider the side- athletes on the team while also being
blocker on squarely using both hands while line to be the safety since there is no room aggressive and intelligent football players.
keeping your shoulders square to the shoul- for the returner to bounce outside the side- We usually use free safeties and strong
ders of the blocker. You can then come off line edge of the funnel (Diagram 7). safeties in these positions.
the block to the side that the returner cuts. Therefore, force players must know lane Safeties are the most important cover-
Do not choose a side of the block until the responsibilities and safeties must know age positions on the kickoff team. Safeties
returner chooses a side, since the he will force responsibilities. must be fast, disciplined and sure tacklers.
simply go opposite the side you choose if Diagram 7: Ball Outside the Numbers Due to the importance of these positions,
you pick a side before he does. You can we usually use two of our starting defen-
never be right if you avoid a blocker when sive backs who fit these criteria.
the returner is threatening your lane. Lane players should be aggressive,
tough and sure tacklers. Speed is an
4. Kicker: Once the ball is caught, you asset in this position, but cannot make up
become the “point man” of the second fun- for deficiencies in tackling or courage. We
nel. Run straight down the field and be usually use linebackers, fullbacks, tight
inside out on the ball. Fill inside the second ends and some defensive backs in these
funnel formed by the safeties and make the positions.
tackle if the ball breaks through the first The kicker’s most important asset is
funnel. consistent distance on his kicks. If one
kicker is consistently kicking the ball an
Ball Outside the Numbers appreciable distance farther than the other
If the ball gets outside the numbers Personnel kickers, then he will be our kickoff man. If
(whether it is kicked outside the numbers or Players will be selected to fill the kickoff however, our deepest kickers are similar in
the returner takes it outside the numbers), team positions based on the following distance, then we will use the kicker who is
then the force player to that side becomes attributes: more accurate in directing his kicks.

NCAA Football and NAIA Football Promotional Programs

Benefit College Football at All Levels
For the first time in the history of intercollegiate athletics, the mote college football on a national level got its start in several
AFCA, NCAA, the National Association of Collegiate Directors of places. NCAA Football evolved from the 125th Anniversary cele-
Athletics (NACDA) and Collegiate Commissioners Association bration of college football and College Football USA. College
(CCA) have joined together to create NCAA Football. Football USA was an initiative begun by the AFCA and NACDA.

The coalition announced a partnership to improve, preserve, Board of Directors: NCAA Football will have a 14-member
promote and market the game of college football. The program is board comprised of 10 Division I-A conference representa-
expected to generate ‘new’ dollars that will go to athletics depart- tives, one Division I-AA conference representative, one NCAA
ments at all levels. s t a ff representative, one A F C A representative and one
NACDA representative.
The organization will be charged with heightening interest in
and awareness of college football. It will market and promote the Who Benefits?: NCAA Football will take the collective initiative of
game on a national level by developing a marketing fund for pro- conference commissioners, football coaches, athletic directors and
motions, licensing, merchandising, media, hospitality and grass- the NCAA to create, with corporate America, specific initiatives to
roots initiatives. promote college football. Revenue generated will be directed back to
a national marketing fund established to build and promote college
What Is NCAA Football?: NCAAFootball represents a coalition football. Participating institutions will receive revenues for usage of
of AFCA, NCAA, NACDAand the CCAformed to improve, preserve their marks.
and promote the game of college football. It is the first time these
groups have pooled their resources under one umbrella for the bet- What Institutions Will Participate?: All 566 NCAA football-
terment of college football. We call this “The Power of One.” playing institutions will have the opportunity to participate in the
program. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics
Mission Statement: To improve, preserve and promote the game (NAIA) is developing a similar program called NAIA Football .
of college football for those who play the game, those who coach the
game and for those who support the game. For information on NCAA Football and on NCAA Football
decals for your school’s football helmets, contact Host
Where Did NCAA Football Begin?: The opportunity to pro- Communications at 972-778-7700.