In what should be the final Eleven (this year), the Great Bobby P pulls the curtain back on one of the most common, but overlooked plays in football – the kick for points. Nowhere else will you read a technical football article that includes references to both Shakespeare and Hoosiers! Enjoy.
“A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”
I open this second-to-last installment with a quote from Richard IIIfor several reasons. The first of these is that I have been much like the stooped, lustful, grasping regent over the last several weeks. Dave offered me a simple task, a periodic column on the X’s and O’s of football. It seemed simple enough, but I warned him early on that my schedule is often hectic, so that I had doubts about my reliability. Well-founded doubts, obviously. I’ve been about as reliable as coke-fiend. This was for no malicious intent, although from Dave’s angle, that doesn’t really matter. He was hoping for columns that he didn’t get. He even added a well timed prod or two to get me going, which alas, missed their mark. Sorry Dave. If we do this next season, assuming you would have me back, I promise a better effort. [Ed: Come on man, its a blog, not the New York Times. No worries.]
The second reason I selected the quote above is that it seems at times of our greatest need, the simplest things can be the hardest to come by. There is no simpler play in football than the field goal/extra point. This simplicity though, is countered by the fact that every single time the kicking unit is on the field, points are there to be had. The game is played to score more points than the other team, so it’s only common sense that teams would spend plenty of time on plays in which you score points, correct?
If only the world was that simple.
Fact is, many, many, many teams at the college level (and sometimes even at the pro) take these simple plays for granted, which translates to poor technique and lost points. As you well know, lost points are costly. So herein, I will discuss the simple extra point, compare different formations, discuss fakes, and what to do when things go wrong. If this seems overly simple to you, and something of no consequence, then I say you can never again complain when a kick by your team is blocked or a snap is fumbled.
We’ll start with the basic kicking formation:
C: Over the ball (duh)
TE’s, T’s, and G’s: Nothing can get inside you, so you obviously take a tight split. No more 4″ from the outside leg of the guy inside of you. You do want to have a slightly wider base than normal, but not so wide that you are easily knocked backwards.
W’s: at a 45 degree tilt, with the toes of the inside leg no more than six inches behind the outside foot of the TE
H: If playing outside on the grass, you let the kicker pick his spot, but make sure its at least seven yards deep from the line of scrimmage (LOS). I prefer seven and a half, as the half yard can mean the world when it comes to getting the kick blocked at the LOS. When you kneel down, the first rule is to keep your knee facing the LOS on the ground and have your back knee up. This is a point of contention with some coaches. They feel that if you have the LOS knee up, you can use it as a stop for your arm when placing the ball for the kick, thus being able to return it right where the kicker wanted it. These coaches never held. When the LOS knee is up, all it takes is an over exuberant block attempt by a defender to blow out your knee and tear the piss out of your groin. Not a good thing. Keep the front knee down and the back one out of the kicker’s way. The toes on the down leg should be curled underneath you so if you have to spring up to catch a bad snap, you can do it that much quicker.
K: Wherever he wants to be. But he should take as few steps as possible for the kick. Getting the ball out as quickly as possible is the key.
Now for the assignments:
The snap – This is the most widely screwed up aspect of the play, and it should be the simplest. There should never be a snap count, as it just gives the rush something to key on. Instead, there is a simple progression to ensure the ball isn’t snapped until all are ready. First, the holder should count the squad and make sure there are eleven guys on the field, and then make sure everyone is where they should be. Then he places himself at the spot where the kicker wants the ball placed. He lets the kicker get positioned, and then verbally asks him if he’s ready. Once the kicker gives his assent, the holder first raises his arm closest to the LOS, while keeping the fingers of the other hand right on the spot where the ball is to be placed. When he is ready for the snap, he raises the other hand. Once the holder has both hands up, the center snaps the ball as soon as he is ready, and no earlier. Two things that often get screwed up are that some teams will snap the ball when the holder’s down hand is still down. Stupid, stupid, stupid. How can you expect him to grab a wild snap if he’s not perfectly ready to catch the ball? The second thing is that centers will want to snap the ball as soon as that hand comes up. Again – stupid, stupid,stupid. I used to love seeing teams that would do this on film because I knew I had a chance to block a kick in the next game. As a rusher, all I had to watch was the holder’s down hand and know that I could go as soon as he lifted it. Looked like Dwight Freeney coming off the edge, man.
The reason that progression is important to follow is that it ensures the ball isn’t snapped until all are ready, and it doesn’t allow the defense to anticipate the snap.
After the snap
C: You have one responsibility a crisp snap. Nothing else. The rest of the line will do the blocking, you just need to snap the ball and then take up space.
G’s, T’s, and TE’s: At the snap, they all quickly pick up their inside leg (which is no more than 4″ outside the outside leg of the man inside them) and quickly plant it over and in front of the outside leg of the man inside of them. At the same time, they should punch with their hands and try to establish contact with the defense as far from the kick as possible without moving forward. They have three rules to follow. 1) No man slips between you and the man inside of you. Your efforts are to the inside. 2) Do not give ground under any circumstances. 3) Any defender who tries to jump to block the kick should be short of breath when he comes back down – meaning, you punch them in the stomach. It sounds dirty, but it’s something everybody teaches. Make that guy think twice about exposing his ribs.
W: At the snap he takes a quick jab step with his inside leg to seal off the gap between him and the TE. The outside leg should not move under any circumstances. He has the same rules as the line, but it is crucial that no one can slip between him and the TE. He should make himself as wide as possible (we liked to have long-armed players here) and make sure to get a hand and shove on any player that tries to go outside of him. If he positions himself properly, doesn’t move that outside foot, and can get a hand on him, it should take the outside rusher too long to get to the kick to block it.
H: Simple – get the ball down. Worry less about the laces than getting the ball right where the kicker wants it and positioned how he wants it. When placing the ball, you should always use the LOS side hand to hold the top of the ball, and the kicker side hand to position it. That way, if you don’t pull the positioning/spinhand out of the way in time, the kicker can still kick the ball (and your hand) and hopefully make it. Do it the other way around and you block the kicker’s kick before it leaves his foot. Don’t be that guy. Also it should go without saying, but don’t be the guy that flinches and pulls his hand at the last minute. I used to hold the point with the first knuckle of my index and second finger, and stare right through them at a point on the ground until the kick was well away. That way I was always sure of my hold.
K: Kickers do what kickers do. Just don’t pull a Grammatica.
That’s the basics of getting a kick off, so let’s look at some variations in the formation:
The most commonly-seen variation of the normal formation is the unbalanced double wing. Sounds tricky, but it’s not:
The thought behind this formation is that by staggering the wings on the one side (the side of the kicking leg) you create enough depth that it would be impossible to go around the edge and block the kick. Conversely, on the other side, it makes the distance that the edge rusher has to go farther, thus making the protection stronger on both sides. Theoretically, that is. I’ve never been a big fan of this one, as in my eyes it’s susceptible to pressure at the wings. It gives the defense space to build up a head of steam and possibly drive the wing back into the kick, or drive him up field letting a man slip inside. It does, however give you a little more creative license when it comes to fakes.
The other alternative formation I’ll discuss is the classic swinging gate. Yeah, yeah, people hear swinging gate and they start thinking of short gold shorts and Indiana basketball. Well this is one version of the football edition:
Looks crazy, right? I agree, but here’s why teams will do it. First off, if a team hasn’t prepared for it, you can surprise them into a time-out or an easy two-point conversion. Just looking at this, the eligible receivers are all over the place (the outside TE, both W’s, the C, H, and K are all eligible receivers).Secondly, if the kicker is an athlete, they spread the defense out like this they can snap the ball right too him and he can follow the C and H into the end zone. Thirdly, if the defense is significantly out-numbered on the left, the center can throw the ball sideways to the W who has six blockers in front of him. I’ve seen teams run the option with the holder and the kicker. ‘Ive even seen the center throw the ball left to the W, who in turn dumps a little pass to a wide open TE. The whole idea is surprise and outnumbering the defense. What usually happens though, is that the defense is ready, and before the play clock expires, everybody trots back to a normal position and the ball is snapped. So again, why do it? Well when a defense is running around deciding who has whom, they can’t really set up a block, can they? It’s a gimmicky play, but one that works.
Now, let’s look back at the original formation and talk about fakes, and what to do when everything goes wrong.
This is the simplest, and can be effective if you have a good, strong runner in the Wing, and a TE who can seal the edge. At the snap the wing runs behind the LOS and once receiving the ball, looks for a seam to dive into. The holder catches the snap and then flips the ball to the Wing. The right Wing has to try and force his man up field, or failing that, help the TE seal the edge. My alma mater used this behind the line flip to beat our rivals in OT two years ago.
OK, this looks complex, but it’s not really. The left Wing takes a similar route that he took on the previous one, but his time, rather than flip the ball to him, the H runs an option to the left with the kicker. If nobody picks him up, he sprints for the pylon, if he gets pressure, he immediately flips the ball to the kicker who can either run it or dump the ball over the top to the TE.
In this one, the holder does a little bit of the Charlie Brown and pulls the ball before the kick. It’s imperative that he does an actual roll-out so he gets enough depth to get around the corner. By that I mean that when he picks up the ball, he turns his back to the LOS by turning his head to his left shoulder and reversing around. He has to get out of there quick, as no one on the outside is being blocked, but they will be working inside to get to the expected kick. The kicker also has to sell the kick to make the play work. The Wing on the left is the only player who has a specific spot that he sits, and that is right under the left corner of the upright. He’s the safety valve if everyone is covered, and the holder is taught to turn and throw the ball at a target just below that corner of the goal post. In the case of a bad or fumbled snap on any kicking occasion, the holder will shout “Fire!” as loud as he can, and everyone who hears will execute this same play. It doesn’t always work, but through practice, your Wings and TE’s should be able to hear the call and get out into their routes. (Note of trivia – my little brother (a WR) threw a TD off a botched snap in a high school game eighteen hours before I did the same thing in a college game. Bizzare.)
Now you probably know more than you ever thought you would about one of the simplest plays in football. But like I said, points are the name of the game, so these plays should be taken very seriously. They are easy to execute, as long as the unit works together, but as always, it takes eleven to get the job done.
– Bob Pentland
Eleven – 1 – Introduction
Eleven – 2 – The Zone Blitz
Eleven – 3 – The Cover Two
Eleven – 4 – Zone Blocking
Eleven – 5 – The Bootleg
Eleven – 6 – Extra Points And Field Goals