How-to guide for punters and special teams coaches

By Bill Hewitt | Posted 1/24/2018

Photo via Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports

Kicking is typically learned in early childhood, with gross motor skills often taught by family members, and skills can be refined throughout a child's development. 

If your young athlete chooses to go into the game, perhaps punting is for them. If so, this could be the process:

How to find a Punter: Preseason is the time to find the punters on any team. As a former special teams coordinator, I'd pick a few players and test how far they could kick the ball. Next, I look for form and hand-eye reliability. Evaluation begins with observation. Punting is a science, and kickers are a special breed.

Punting takes a tremendous amount of strength and technique development. I recommend total body fitness and wellness to be a great punter.

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The drop of the football: This is the most important factor in the total process for punters. Hand-eye catch to contact of the football is another. Keep your elbows slightly bent. See if the candidates have this ability. Take the straight steps and release the ball in a timely fashion, under complete control.

A normal punting situation: This situation requires good hand position by holding the nose of the ball. This can be accomplished by holding the side or underneath the ball. This is called the 3/4-underneath grip. This grip is used by most NFL punters. The right thumb is a little left of the line with the strings of the football. The four fingers are spread underneath. Don't hold the football on the top. Distance will be dictated by the hang time. Keep the forward nose of the ball slightly down.

Punter aiming points: When kicking, the aiming points are the left guard to the center to right guard only, nothing outside the guards. That would affect the kick (a.k.a. shank).

Pooch kicks: There are two ways to hold the ball during a pooch kick for hang time. First, hold it nose up and down to the ground, holding the fat part of the football to contact. The bottom nose of the ball should be tilted away at approximately 10 degrees. This kick will create an end-over-end action. This type of punt is very hard to catch.

The other type, slightly raise the nose for a shorter punt. This can increase hang time, and is sometimes used for coffin-corner kicks. This is the punter's preference.

I continue to watch and work with these players during special teams in practice, spending 20 minutes before and after practice on skills and mechanics.

Here are a few characteristics to seek:

Evaluate the punter: They must be athletic, with a good range of leg and arm motion. This includes a leg whip with good hip action, along with an ability to react quickly and move to an alternate plan of attack if needed. Good explosion from leg and foot power to contact the football is expected.

The vertical jump test shows ability, leg strength and agility. In most cases, the punter should run 4.9 seconds or better in the 40-yard dash. Punters need leg speed to get the football off quickly. Most punters are two- or three-step to contact kickers. One-step punters are rare.

Here's a basic skills breakdown:

Stance: The punter uses a square or staggered stance. It's up to the individual's preference. If a coach tries to make any drastic changes in kicking style, the punter could lose their poise and confidence. For every correction, add three positives. Use only small corrections to help.

Receiving the snap from center: The punter should receive the snap at belt- to chest-high. I leave it up to the kicker and the snapper to work together as a team and determine what works and feels comfortable. Receiving the football to contact is critical. Remember, college and pro kickers have 1.1 seconds against an all-out pressure situation, 1.3 seconds to catch and release on a normal punt. High school is 1.4 to 1.5 seconds. Practice makes perfect - 50 punts a day with proper warm-up procedures is a good start.

Body Position: A punter should stay loose, and straight toward the line of scrimmage. Some kickers like to slightly lean forward. Let arms hang freely to gradually raise to pre-snap position. Thumbs up, and left wrist slightly angled out 5 to 10 degrees. Tilt in with the right wrist angled in, holding the nose of the football 5 to 10 degrees. Hold the football by the side and under the nose only. Guide the ball with the left hand slightly to control football to impact.

Steps: Make sure to stay straight toward the line, and do not overstride. A quick release is a must. By the second step, the ball should be at the same drop table ready to punt. If there's a bad snap, bring the ball back to the drop table level, arm extended, ready to drop. Do not lock arms extended.

Drop: Keep two hands on the football, laces up. Concentrate on control of the football until release. Release the ball with the left hand guiding it onto the instep of the punter's flat foot.

Initial contact: Should be made within four yards. This will ensure distance. The two-step punter is the best to have because of the quick release. The three-step is most common. 

Foot position: Point the nose of the ball slightly down, again 5 to 10 degrees in, pointing down the field to get the greatest distance and hang time. Avoid having the nose of the football up. Only use this for short punts and hang time. If the ball is punted too low or slow, it'll be blocked in most cases.

Foot motion: Most punters start the foot motion with the left foot in front, then motion to right foot, left foot, punt.

Foot release should be at 180 degrees, in line with your shin, if possible. I always tell kickers to count to two before looking up after impact, then call out the direction of the kick to help coverage.

Other phases: Goal line punting is a critical part of the game. Sure hands and quick release are first and foremost. Look to kick to the sideline, if possible. No runbacks are always a plus.

If you're punting from your end zone, before the kick, have the punter put their toes on the back line of the end zone. Tell them to jump into the end zone toward the playing field. This gives the punter the distance needed in case of a high snap. Remember, if the punter steps on the end line with the ball, it's a safety. The cushion distance is very important.

Hang time: Teach your punter to get a good whip action and elevate the body and leg extention. Throughout the kick, toe down, leg up.

Stretching test for kickers: Find a one-inch-by-six-inch pine board, 24 inches long. Using the training room wall, measure the height of the punting motion. Mark the height on the wall once a week to record progress. Hold the 1"×6" board vertically, and let the toe of the punter hit the board. Hold tape measure and record.

Use positive reinforcement with any effort, and encourage your players' progress. Make sure realistic goals are set. Punters must push themselves to improve their skills and mechanics.