Technique, Drills, Videos, and Tips & Tricks
Whether you are a kicker looking to become a dual-threat or a punter-only looking to further enhance your trade, this section will cover, in detail, every step of the punting process. The topics that will be covered below include: Checking Your Conditions, Stance, Reception, Steps/Grip, Drop, Contact, and Follow-Through.
As athletes, we should always be aware of our conditions. Weather, down & distance, turf type, etc. We cover some of these factors in the field goal section as it relates to kicking. While it is geared towards field goals, you can still apply some of it to punting. However, we will cover punting-specific concerns that deal with our surroundings. We will discuss wind/ weather, grass/turf, distance, and game situations.
a. Wind / Weather
Wind or poor weather conditions are a punter’s worst enemy. Even if weather conditions were perfect, punting is a very difficult trade because there are so many factors. There’s the snap, the catch, the placement, the steps, the drop, the contact, and the follow-through that all must be perfect while getting the ball off in 2.0 seconds with huge defenders bearing down on you. However, we must be ready for anything on game day. Even if we know what the wind or weather tendencies are for a particular field, always make sure you know what type of kick is required for the given situation. For instance, if we have a strong wind in our face, we must be able to adjust our technique and lower our drop to drive our punt. If we get caught with a high drop or the nose up while the wind is in our face, you are probably looking at an embarrassingly short punt. Know what kick is required. Most of the time, your special teams coach is not going to tell you what to do besides punt left, punt right, or just get it out! Thus, we must be knowledgeable of our own abilities combined with the external factors in order to produce the most effective punt. If we experience a cross-wind, things become a little trickier. The rule of thumb is to punt slightly into the direction that the wind is coming from. For instance, if we have a mild left to right wind, we want to aim slight to the left. This will help the ball turn its nose over and the wind will carry it back a few yards to our original aiming point.
b. Grass / Turf
The same logic applies here as it does for field goals. As specialists, the last thing we want to think about is slipping on a muddy or unstable field. In such situations, I recommend having a football cleat for your plant-foot for better traction. It may feel a bit awkward at first, but the peace of mind that it provides is worth it. Make sure that you practice with the new cleat in advance of the game. Bottom line, know what to expect for game day so that you can properly prepare for it.
Distance determines a lot when it comes to punting. When we are 80 yards from the opposing endzone, it is fairly obvious that we can punt the ball away without fearing a touchback. We just need to make sure we punt in the direction of our coverage. When we start nearing midfield, strategy begins to play a larger role. The “Aussie” punt is gaining momentum in all levels of football now. The Aussie punt is when we drop the nose and kick the point of the football. The end over end rotation provides better accuracy and a more consistent bounce. This punt is used when the line of scrimmage (LOS) is right around midfield. If we are not familiar with the Aussie punt, we need to hang it up high and try to drop it right around the 10 yard line. If you try to be too aggressive, you risk a touchback without even giving your coverage a chance. Know your distance!
d. Game Situations
Knowing the game situation seems like an obvious point, but it is worth mentioning. Us specialists are often off on our own hanging around our kicking net (in college and up, at least) and if we are not paying attention, we can be caught off guard. Football is a fast-paced game and any drive can turn a 180 on you in a blink of an eye. We must be few steps ahead of the game situation to know not only what type of punt will be needed, but also to know when to warm up without being rushed. Towards the end of a game, situations might become more desperate for the opposition. They might need a punt block and will send the house to come after you. You should know this is coming and either do a one-step punt or just get it out!
Punt stances come in many varieties. The most commonly used stance is a slightly staggered stance with our feet shoulder width apart and our punting foot a couple inches behind our plant-foot. Other stances that I have seen include having our punting foot forward (just like a one-step punt), both feet parallel to one another, or extremely narrow stances. Just like I say in other sections, all of these can be successful as long as they are consistent. We want our knees to have a slight bend in them and our chest slightly forward. Ultimately, we want our stance to be athletic, comfortable, and consistent. We also need to draw our mental line in the direction of where we want our punt to go. As we are standing back there awaiting the snap, line up your block point and your destination target with your feet and draw a straight line. This will help you maintain a consistent approach allowing you to place the ball in your power zone each time.
Now that we are back in our athletic stance, our snapper is down, and our personal protector is yelling out the cadence, we are ready to receive the ball. Here we are assuming that we get a relative good snap. As the ball is on its way, we want to make sure that we catch the ball on the hip of our punting leg. This means that if the ball is heading towards our opposite hip, we need to shuffle over so that we still catch it on our punting hip. We also want to make sure that we are receiving the punt snap out in front of our body. We do not want to catch the ball in tight and have it bounce off of our stomach or chest. Extend your arms and receive the ball out in front of you. If we happen to get a terribly bad snap, we have to try and catch it at all cost. If we do manage to get to it, we need to try as hard as possible to get back to our original block point/ line. In this situation, as long as you get the ball out without it being blocked, your coach cannot be too upset.
4. Grip & Steps
a. Side Note – Become a True 2-Step Punter
(it is highly recommended to become a true 2-step punter. It is common to see high school punters doing a 2 and a half or even a 3 step punt to try and get more power. If a college coach is looking at your game film and sees this, they will dismiss you unless they see enough potential to work with you. Do not give them any excuse to put your film back on the shelf.) Now that we have successfully and cleanly received our punt snap, we begin our approach. As we take our first step forward along our line with our punt leg, we simultaneously place our ball right in front of our hip. This is where we will first grip the ball and set the tone for the rest of the punting process.
b. Handshake Grip & Guide Hand
Getting the proper grip of the ball should occur almost simultaneously to our reception. If we are trying to adjust our grip as we are going through our steps, our timing will be significantly thrown off. Grip on the ball can come in many different forms. I believe that the most common and successful grip style is the“Handshake Grip” where we literally shake hands with the back of the ball. We do not want the tip of the ball touching our palms. This can cause inconsistencies in our drop. We want to hold the ball with our fingertips and be able to have enough control to where the ball will not slip out. A picture of the handshake grip can be seen above. There are many other variations and as long as you can achieve a flat, consistent drop, it can be successful. While we are on the topic, we must discuss our guide hand as well. For right-footers, this will be our left hand. With our ball held out straight in front of us over our punting leg using our handshake grip, we bring our guide hand across our chest and place it naturally on the inside part of the ball. When I say ‘naturally’, I mean we do not want to adjust anything with our grip hand. We are simply using our guide hand for more stability and to guide it along our line.
c. Place the Ball & Step
So now we have correctly gripped the ball, placed our guide hand, and set the ball out in front of us over our punting hip/leg. As a true 2-step punter, we are now ready to take our first step. Our first step will be with our punting leg right down our target line. We do not want to cross over our line with our steps, but rather we want to step parallel with our line. Many kicker/punter combo guys have a tendency to cross over. The line drill is a great way to break this habit. At this point our guide hand is still on the football. We then take our second step forward, and down, our punt line with our plant leg. As our plant leg is coming forward, our guide hand is being released from the ball simultaneously . This precise moment is captured in the picture above captioned “Punt Steps”. In this picture, the guide hand is just coming off and you can see the plant leg beginning to move forward. (Keep in mind that as we are taking our steps, our ball should not waver from its initial placement in any direction. One tool to help us visualize this point is to place the ball on our “drop table.” Our drop table is an imaginary glass table protruding from our punt hip. Once we have placed our ball on it, any movement throughout our steps will break the glass and ultimately create inconsistencies.) We should now be planting with our plant-foot and our guide hand becomes our counter-arm, mirroring our kicking leg .
5. Ball Drop
We have successfully made it through the first 4 phases and we are now ready to release/drop our football. This is arguably the most crucial aspect of punting. We can do everything else in the punting process correctly, but if we give ourselves a poor punt drop, there is often little that we can do to salvage the kick. When we release the ball, we want to keep our drop right on our target line over our punting thigh. Because our arms are shorter than our legs, we need to push the ball forward so that contact can be made with our foot instead of our ankle or shin. I like to imagine that we are pushing our ball off of the end of a glass table. This visual helps me reduce any excess movements. You don’t want to shatter the table, but rather let it glide along its flat surface and then off of the edge.
b. Keep it Flat
Another key factor is maintaining a flat, level drop. Watching the nose of the football will tell us everything about what will transpire after we make contact. Young punters have a punt drop that has a tendency to turn inward. While we do want a slight inward tilt (ideally an 11 o’ clock tilt for a righty), we do not want to overdo it as this will force us to cross our body to make solid contact. Just like in field goals, we want to match the angle of the ball with the angle of our foot. We also want our left-to-right placement of the ball to be directly over our quad muscle. Since your punting leg should already be in alignment with your target line, it only makes sense to place your punt drop there as well. Now that we have our ball tilt and left-to-right placement in order, we need to adjust our up and down placement.
The height of our drop will depend a lot on the situation of the punt. In normal weather conditions where we are able to punt the ball without worry of a touchback, typical drop height ranges between the belly-button and the chest. In windy conditions where we need to have more control over our drop, this range lowers. Wherever we set the height of our drop, we must maintain that position throughout the whole punt process.
a. Minimize the Time the Ball is in the Air
Now that we have released the ball along our target line and over our quad muscle, we are ready to make contact. One of the most important concepts that I have learned along my punting career is to minimize the amount of time between releasing the ball and making contact. The Contact Drill is a great way to help us in this pursuit. This greatly increases our consistency because there is little time for your punt drop to move on you and/or fall victim to a gust of wind. This takes the guesswork out of where our ball will be when we make contact.
b. Match the Angle of the Ball with the Angle of Your Foot
Also, as stated above, we want to match the angel of the ball with the angle of our foot. In the picture to the right, you can see that we make contact on the outside of our kicking foot. You can also see that his foot is locked out giving him a nice flat surface to punt with. The slight turn inward of our drop allows the ball to slightly lay across the top of our foot so that we can achieve a nose-over spiral, and ultimately maximize hang time and distance.
c. Leg Lock
Contact should occur at or just above our knee cap. If we make contact much higher than that, we are losing power. The reason for this is because our leg locks out right at our knee level. A high drop will mean that our leg will have been locked out for a fraction of a second before making contact which hinders explosive contact. We want our punt leg to lock out right at the point of contact.
We also want to maintain that slight forward chest lean that we started with in our stance throughout the whole process. If we lean back during our steps or any time before our follow-through, we will lose sight of the football and our front-to-back alignment will be thrown off.
Now, we are finally at the last phase of our punting process: the follow-through. As punters, we want to finish UP not out. Assuming everything went to plan in the previous steps, our punt leg should swing straight up. The momentum from our punt should lift our plant-foot off of the ground and if we fall off in any direction, it should be back. If our follow-through is bringing us forward, we are losing a lot of the power that we generate with our approach. While our eyes should stay on the football through contact, they should release upward as your leg swings up and then follow the flight of the football. If we keep our head down through our follow-through, we are restricting the range of motion that our leg can swing.
So there you have it! Hopefully these steps have provided everyone with a solid understanding of the art of punting.