In a recent podcast with two-time NFL Special Teams Coach of the Year Bobby April, the discussion focused on how to practice the mechanics of exchanging players on and off the field from offense to special teams and defense to special teams. April noted that most special teams practices take place in a “sterile environment” in that they are not practiced within the context of a game where players have to make transitions from offense and defense to a special teams unit. Often this is a place where there are not enough players on the field or a player runs on late.
To remedy this, April recommended practicing this transition on the walk-through day at the end of the week. April would run this session on air and have different situations occurring on the field. He might have the offense out on third down and notify the sideline with “Punt team be ready.” Then he would say, “We didn’t get it. Punt team go.”
He would be sure to cover all situations with special attention being paid to punt, punt return and field goal since these units must transition onto the field without the stoppage that occurs after a score. April pointed out that throughout this session, he would take a player off the unit being called up to be sure that back-ups were alert and getting onto the field when the situation called for it. He might for example say, “Punt team up. Smith’s chinstrap broke,” and Smith’s back-up would be expected to get onto the field immediately.
April also noted the importance of the special teams coach who is responsible for the call, as well as understanding the situation to be able to keep his eyes on the field for what is happening in the game. This requires another assistant being responsible for bringing together the special teams unit who may be up next. For the most part, this will be the punt or punt return/block units. The idea is that the assistant will be able to assemble the players who will be transitioning onto the field and being sure that all 11 are out on the field when called for.
Coach and Coordinator podcast host Keith Grabowski pointed out that he utilized a special teams focused mock game similar to April’s Saturday sessions. This entailed accounting for all special teams situations which a team may face and provided the transition work. The format for the mock game can be seen below.