Football Special Teams: How to Return a Punt
Punt returning in American football isn’t always as exciting as returning a kickoff because the distance between the team punting and the punt returner isn’t as great. Returning a punt for positive yards, meaning catching the kicked ball and running down the field with it, can be a challenge:
A punt returner needs either a line-drive punt or a long punt (45 yards or more from the line of scrimmage) with less than four seconds of hang time — or spectacular blocking by his teammates — to achieve significant positive return yards.
The receiving team must concentrate on effectively blocking the outside pursuit men and the center — the players who have the most direct access to the punt returner.
The rest of the unit must peel back and attempt to set up a wall or some interference for the returner.
Whenever the return unit can hold up four or five players from the punting team, the returner has a chance.
A returner needs to possess a few traits:
Be a fearless competitor and willing to catch a punt at or near full speed and continue his run forward. If the defense isn’t blocked, the collisions between a returner and a tackler can be extremely violent, leading to injuries and concussions.
Have superior hands.
Have tremendous concentration. Because of the closeness of the coverage and the bodies flying around, the returner usually catches the ball in traffic. Several players are generally within a yard of him, so the sounds of players blocking and running tend to surround him. He must close out these sounds in order to catch the ball and maintain his composure.
To catch the ball and then run with it, under such conditions, takes guts. A returner’s final fear is losing the ball via a fumble, thus putting his opponent in favorable field position.