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Stop kicking! Try the place-kick punt.

After a game in which our punter kicked one straight up and the another out of bounds, five yards beyond the line of scrimmage, I decided to try an idea I had some years ago--the place-kick "punt."

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There is no "punt" section in the high-school rule book. Rather, there is Section 6-2, which is titled "Scrimmage Kicks." The word "punt" only appears as one of the three allowed types of scrimmage kicks (and as an allowed type of free kick after a safety). The other two types of allowed scrimmage kicks are drop kicks and place kicks.

So why does everyone punt on fourth down when they are out of field-goal range? Tradition apparently. Let's consider which is the best type of scrimmage kick rather than the conventinal punt.

Which type of kick goes farther, punt or place kick? Without a doubt, the place kick. I have no comprehensive stats on high school punts and place kicks, but the NCAA stats on Division III (the lowest, small-college level) indicate that the average DIII punt travels about 34 yards. The maximum successful field goals are in the 50- to 60-yard range.

Coaches are reluctant to try long field goals, but we generally know that the typical place kicker can kick the occasional 50-yarder in practice.

Punts are generally measured from the LOS to the point of reception and field goals from the tee to the crossbar. Since they usually hit the ground five or more yards behind the crossbar, we are still left with the conclusion that place kicks generally travel at least 15 yards farther than punts. Furthermore, field goals tend to bounce farther in the desired direction than punts because they come in at a lower trajectory.

Which type of kick is more accurate? I know of no statistics on punt accuracy. But we know that punters generally just try to get maximum distance or maximum distance to out of bounds. Place-kickers, on the other hand, are aiming at a target--the goal post--that is 23 feet, 4 inches wide. Clearly, place kicks are far more accurate.

Which type of kick is easier to snap and protect? Place kicks. The snap only goes seven yards and the kick gets off in 1.4 seconds. Punts, on the other hand, are snapped 12 or more yards and take 2.0 seconds. The place kick may seem easier to block because it originates two inches off the ground. But punts actually are kicked at about 18 inches, so it's not as much altitude difference as you may have thought.

Is there a danger of outkicking your coverage? There is always that danger. It is normal to outkick your coverage on kickoffs. So it's not like outkicking your coverage is some never-to-be-committed cardinal sin. With a field-goal formation, you have double-tight, double-wing, and a holder. Spread punt formations have one or two gunners or sprinters out wide who can, in theory, get to the punt returner quickly. However, receiving teams typically put guys out there to block the gunners.

My high school uses the tight punt formation with double tight ends and two upbacks behind the A gaps. So in our case, it is actually easier to fan out and cover the kick from the double-wing formation.

Which has more hang time? One might think punts, but maybe not. The greater distance traveled may cause the hang time of a place kick to match the higher altitude, but shorter, punt. Punts typically go higher, although at the freshman level I have seen punt plays where the long snap reached a higher altitude than the punt. In any event, if you kick the ball out of bounds, as we always try to do, the hang time is irrelevant.

We tell our place kicker to kick the ball out of bounds so it lands inbounds on the fly, then goes out of bounds on the bounce. The last time we did it in the final game of the 2004 season, the line of scrimmage was the receiving team's 43, the tee was squarely on the 50-yard line, and the ball skipped out of bounds at the 3-yard line. This was not a great punt at the college or pro level, but it was for high school freshmen.

In high-school rules, the receiving team gets the ball where it goes dead or where it goes out of bounds. If it goes into the end zone, it is a touchback and comes out to the 20. The main point that most people seem not to understand is that the rules for the place kick are the same as for the punt. Remember, the rule book treats them both as "scrimmage kicks."

Many coaches regard TV foot-ball--college and pro--as the font of all coaching wisdom and would ask, "If this is such a great idea, why don't the college and NFL coaches do it?"

NFL Rule 11-5-2 says that, "all field goals attempted and missed when the spot of the kick is beyond the 20-yard line will result in the defensive team taking possession of the ball at the spot of the kick." In other words, the receiving team gets the ball at the kicking team's line of scrimmage.

But NFL Rule 7-5-1 says the same as the high school rule: the receiving team in a scrimmage-kick play gets the ball where it went out of bounds. NFL Rule 9-1-1 defines scrimmage kicks the same as the high school rules, that is, punt, drop kick, or place kick.

As far as I can tell, the NFL rules do not tell how to distinguish a "field goal attempted" from a "scrimmage kick" that uses the place-kick type of kick. NCAA Rule 8-4-2b is about the same as the NFL rule. Again, they do not tell how to distinguish between an "unsuccessful field goal attempt" and a scrimmage kick place kick that is not a field goal attempt.

So it may be that TV coaches do not do place-kick "punts" because the ball will be placed on their line of scrimmage if they miss. However, there is no such rule in high school. Whether you punt or place kick from scrimmage, the receiving team gets the ball where it goes out of bounds or is downed or at their 20 in the case of a touchback.

Our experience with the place-kick "punt" was that opposing teams, announcers, and fans seemed confused--often comically so. Sometimes they put no one deep. In that case, we told the kicker to kick down the middle of the field, but not into the end zone.

On two occasions, opponents frantically ran to the ball and fell on it as if they believed the kickoff rules applied. In other words, they knew to get away from a punt-type scrimmage kick that they did not plan to return, but they did not know to get away from a place-kick type scrimmage kick.

On a couple of other occasions, teams that scouted us returned our place-kick "punts." We simply tackled them as we would a punt returner. I had told the kicker to kick out of bounds, but he missed. This caused me to wonder out loud about people who "cannot hit the broad side of a football field." As the season progressed, our kicker got more consistent about kicking out of bounds.

We told the officials about this before every game. They just smiled and agreed it was legal. One said he had seen it done before. Our opponents continued to punt--often straight up or shanked out of bounds or even backwards.

The most important consideration is the risk. It is well known that the blocked punt is the best play in football. But why do so many coaches with erratic punters continue to risk a blocked punt?

Where is the great reward to compensate for the great risk? Even if the place-kick "punt" had the same distance and accuracy as a punt, would you switch to it for the lesser chance of it being blocked? The fact that place-kick "punts" go farther, are more accurate, and are gotten off quicker, makes it a no-brainer decision.

Stop punting. Start place-kick "punting."

By John T. Reed, Freshman Coach

Monte Vista H.S., Danville, CA

John T. Reed (www.johntreed.com) is the author of the books Football Clock Management, Coaching Youth Football, Single-Wing Offense for Youth Football, Gap-Air-Mirror Defense for Youth Football, and Coaching Youth Football Defense.
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Title Annotation:FOOTBALL
Author:Reed, John T.
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2005
Words:1411
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