Who's Who on American Football Special Teams - dummies

Who’s Who on American Football Special Teams

By Howie Long, John Czarnecki

The players who put their foot to the ball are the placekickers, punters, and field goal kickers. They’re all also known as specialists. On some teams, the punter handles kickoff duties, and the placekicker is responsible for field goal and extra point attempts. Other teams have players for all three positions. But there’s a lot more to the kicking game than these two or three players.

When a punter attempts a punt, for example, 21 other players are on the field. The ten remaining men on the punting team have two tough responsibilities: to protect the punter’s kick from being blocked and then to run down the field and cover the punt. They face ten players who are trying to slow them down, as well as the player who’s catching the punt (the punt returner).

The returner is generally one of the fastest runners on a team and a specialist in his own right. The punting team wants to prevent the return man from gaining a single yard, whereas the punt returner obviously wants to go the distance and score a touchdown. At the very least, he wants to place his team’s offense in good field position, shortening the distance that the offense must travel to score.

Specialists have their own coach, known as a special teams coach, who serves in a capacity similar to that of an offensive or defensive coordinator in that he coaches a large group of players and not merely a specific position. Some teams also have a kicking coach who coaches basically two players, the punter and the kicker.

Special teams are so specialized that a single group of players can’t cover every situation. Four special teams units exist:

  • The group of players that handles punts, kickoffs, and punt returns

  • The unit that handles field goal and extra point attempts

  • The group that takes care of kickoff returns

  • The unit that attempts to block field-goal and extra-point attempts

Generally, great special teams players are unusual. Travis Jervey, who played for the Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, and San Francisco 49ers, and was selected for the Pro Bowl, had a pet lion. Special teams players are often the wild and crazy guys on a team, too. When coverage men stop a returner in his tracks, for example, they’re usually as excited as offensive players scoring touchdowns.