the efficiency of the shield punt scheme

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The Efficiency of the Shield Punt SchemePosted on January 23, 2012 by xandolabs in Special Teams By Mike Kuchar Research Manager X&O Labs If you watched all thirty some odd bowl games season, wed wager that a game didnt go by were at least one team didnt use the shield punt formation (Diagram 1). The fact is its all over the college landscape. While we couldnt trace its roots or origins (although we do have Bill Stewart from West Virginia reflecting on it below) it spread quickly, at least in the college ranks. As a high school defensive coordinator in central New Jersey, I have yet to face it in the last eight years and as X&O Labs started to conduct its research on the topic, Im glad I havent. But I have a gut feeling that once this report gets circulated, it will only be a matter of time before it rears itself in my neck of the woods. Truth is there is no reason it shouldnt. What youll see below is research garnered from hundreds of coaches supporting the idea that the benefits of utilizing the shield punt scheme far outweigh the risks. As Keith Herring, the head coach at Brentwood High School (MO) told us, We were leery when we put it in. Until you see it happen youre hesitant. But it really does work. Youll also find that for the first time in this report, X&O Labs published actual comments from the survey that we released last week (I should point out that we only asked coaches who have experience either running the shield punt or returning punts against the shield punt to complete the survey). The reason is simple: Our coaches loved to discuss this scheme, and they want to sell you on it, because they are sold on it themselves.

Among the hundreds of coaches we surveyed, 72.8 percent use the shield punt exclusively in their package. The only situation they wont is when punting from their own end zone. So feel free to contact them to learn more about it, they wont hesitate to return your call. In fact, our coaches were so outspoken about the advantages of running the shield punt, we listed them below for you: Advantages of Using the Shield Punt Formation:

Better coverage down the field: The shield punt puts seven players in coverage at the snap of the ball, all seven players on the line of scrimmage. Although the numbers may equate to traditional style punts, the presence of the middle shield players and a three yard spilt along the line of scrimmage allows all players up front to get off into their lanes immediately and cover the kick. Quicker snap to kick time: 70.6 percent of coaches average between 2.0-2.4 seconds per kick using the shield punt. Reason being almost all of them teaches a two-step release: Step with the non-kicking foot then boot the ball out of there. Distance isnt a priority as much as speed and coverage when using this style. Simpler blocking assignments: We found this to be the most simple of them all. While most use man schemes, we detail examples of both in the report.

Better personnel on the field: The coaches that took this survey were intense about special teams, 39.1 percent were special teams coordinators at the high school and collegiate level. So, they dont think about resting their best players on punt. Bill Stewart, the former coach at The University of West Virginia called it the best play in football. Youre about to see why. Keep defenses defensive and not pro-active: We got this philosophy from Travis Walch, the special teams coordinator from the University of St. Thomas (MN), who switched to the shield punt in 09 because he was sick of defending it. Weve found coaches will mix a rugby (rollout) style with a conventional drop and kick style. Which means many will put one of their better athletes at punter and that makes the variable for a fake rise through the roof. Instead of defenses getting revved up to block their kick, they were paranoid of the fake. Some coaches shared their fakes with us, but that will be revealed in another report (when we can verify who they play!). Its nearly impossible to block: This may surprise you, but of all the coaches we spoke to personally when developing this report, only one of them had one blocked and it was because of a poor snap. Sure, we did interview a few coaches who thought they had this scheme figured out (in Case Four) but because of all the issues a shield punt presents, the majority of defensive coaches would rather set up a return than a block.

Case 1: Rugby Style, Drop Back Style or Both? When executing the shield punt, it seems you have three options with the punter. After reaching out to coaches, heres what we found:

50.0 percent use a pure drop and kick punter with a two-step release 47.5 percent will mix drop and kick with rugby rollout styles 2.5 percent exclusively use a rollout and kick

It seems that you either have an athlete that can handle the rugby style or you dont and in turn cant run it effectively. Whichever style you choose, its important to point out the depth of the punter. According to our research 66 percent of coaches aligned him at 14 yards. Herring, whose teams hadnt had a punt blocked in three seasons, toyed around with the idea of using a rollout style. We played around with rugby, but in the four years Ive ran it, most guys were better just traditionally punting it so we stayed with it, said Herring. I like two things about it: we get down the field quickly because were so spread out; also a lot of people dont know how to line up to it. Guys line up so wide on the tackles that they take themselves out of the play. Walch, at the risk of being too predictable decided to vary the launch points of his punter from rugby to drop back. Why not try to use two different launch points on punt? he says. You do it on offense and defense so why not special teams? By doing this, the defense doesnt know if hes punting out of pocket or directly behind long snapper. Youve already put doubt in the punt blockers minds. Walch used to have his punter roll either way and decide on his own accord when to punt. Now, he coaches up the steps. We had two or three that were blocked because he had indecision on whether or not he should punt it, said Walch. Now we have designed steps, side shuffle, turn

his body (for three steps) and on number four hell punt it away. We dont have a four and a second launch point like we used to. West Virginia, under Bill Stewart, used primarily a rugby style roll. We had to reach back into the annals of our research (we saw Bill speak at a clinic two years ago) to reflect on how he coaches his punters. He (the punter) needs quick hands, eyes and feet, I dont care if he punts the ball 40 yards, said Stewart. It will be no higher than 10 feet off the ground because that will give the ball a good roll and its what we want. If we give a read call to the punter, he reads the end man on the line of scrimmage. If that defender rushes, the punter punts the ball. If he back off, the punter runs the ball. Sounds simple enough, but the success of the play, like any other offensive scheme, starts up front. Case 2: First Level Blocking Weve heard through our sources that the majority of coaches who bought into the shield punt scheme use man-blocking principles. It turns out that was correct. According to coaches that took our survey the results were as follows:

47.5 percent of coaches teach a man blocking principle across the line of scrimmage 28.3 percent of coaches teach a zone blocking principle across the line of scrimmage 24.2 percent of coaches combine zone with man principles across the line of scrimmage

Since all man blocking may be the easiest to teach, well start there. While most coaches surveyed employ a three-yard split between blockers, Herring takes a five-yard split between his tackle and his tight end in his shield punt. This means the defenders that line up on his gunners are more than eleven yards from the ball (Diagram 2). His blocking rules are simple, his players dont block. If a guy is head up on us, we just try to get an inside release and go through him, he says. We are runners, not blockers. Youre going to rip through a guy and get to your landmark in coverage [we will explain his landmarks later]. If there is no one on your inside shoulder we just clean release because our shields will pick them up. If they are on the inside shoulder, we will get a piece of them just to tie them up.

Chip Dale, the offensive coordinator at Eastern High School (IN), does have a count system for his protection, but its done from the outside in with his perimeter blockers. Similar to Herring, Dale feels the whole concept of using the shield is to cover, not block. But Dale emphasizes more of a zone blocking scenario. We dont identify the four inside threats, we identify the three widest threats, says Dale. The block angle is better for those guys to get around the wall. Edge rushers are the fastest kids, if you get an extra step on the punt or the snap might be there in time you get a chance to block it. The whole goal is to make their angle impossible, or throw their angle off of it. Against true 10 men down schemes, Dale will have his outside player identify the three widest threats, which the tight end, tackle and guard (he calls them by number) are responsible for. We will make a man or zone call based on their alignment. The tight end is responsible for number one outside. If hes clearly the widest threat, its a man call. Thats it. The number two man (or tackle) block number two and our number three man (guard) will block number three (Diagram 3). Where it gets complicated is when return teams line up in stacks, which we found is a usual scenario against shield punt teams. If there is threat of a guy changing his lane, if you got guys stacked or if its more of a traditional defensive set up with levels than well zone it and attack the widest threat to our zone. In this case, number two will a