Win a Game with Fair Catch Free Kick

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The very rare fair catch kick may be something that wins you a game. Many coaches aren’t aware of this rule, but it does exist in high school football and the NFL. The rule does not apply in college football.

Article 10.2.4(a) of the NFL rule book spells it out: “After a fair catch is made, or is awarded as the result of fair catch interference, the receiving team has the option of putting the ball in play by … a fair-catch kick (drop kick or placekick without a tee) from the spot of the catch.”

Here’s the last time it was attempted in the NFL in 2008. According to the announcer, the last time it was successful was Chicago in 1968 against Green Bay, though I have found another source saying the last successful attempt was in 1976 by Ray Wersching of San Diego against the Buffalo Bills.  Either way, it’s a rare play.

Go to the youtube link here to see Chicago’s attempt in 1968 for the win.  It’s at 3:40 into the video.

As you can see Rackers shanked the kick and the Giants could return it. For this reason, the team that is attempting the free kick must cover in order to prevent a return. More on this later.

Here is the section of the NFHS Rule Book that defines the free kick situation:

ART. 3 . . . A free kick is any legal kick which puts the ball in play to start a free kick down. After the ready-for-play signal and before the kick, each player other than the kicker and holder for a place kick must be behind his free-kick line. A free kick is used for a kickoff, for a kick following a safety, and is used if a free kick is chosen following a fair catch or awarded fair catch.
ART. 7 . . . A place kick is a legal kick made while the ball is in a fixed position on the ground or on a kicking tee. No material or device may be placed on the ground to improve the kicker’s footing. The ball also may be held in position on the ground or on a kicking tee by a place-kick holder who shall be a teammate of the kicker. A place kick may be used for a scrimmage kick, a kickoff, a free kick following a safety or for a free kick following a fair catch or awarded fair catch.

This is a situation that I had my teams practice every week. In my second year as a head coach, I almost called for it, but we determined that we would be out of range. Though it is something you may never use, it’s best to have your team prepared for this in case you do decide to use it.

The following video is a good example of what needs to be covered with your team in order to pull it off. Each point will be discussed in detail.

Obviously, the first thing that needs to happen is that you pin your opponent deep and force them to punt. This is where you probably should have a specific play call for this on the return. We simply called it “fair catch for free kick.” From a strategy standpoint, you will still want to have at least one rusher in the case of a bad snap. You will also want to consider putting two returners back.

You should have an idea of what type of punter the opposing team has and where to place your returners. You will want your returners to be spaced properly so at least one of them can make the fair catch. If the punter you are facing likes to kick it straight away, then you may want a returner deep and a returner short. Again, this is where some special teams scouting and game planning is important.

Fair catch alignment

After you have successfully executed the fair catch, now you have the opportunity to align for a free kick. The ball may be placed anywhere across the line of scrimmage, so your kicker does have the opportunity to line his kick up wherever he wants it on the line of scrimmage. You will want to use your kick off unit to do this because the ball is live after the kick and can be returned by the opposing team.

In high school, the kicking team is allowed to use any legal tee including the tee used for kick offs. The point we always stressed with the rest of the unit was to not go offside. Because the distance they were covering was less than a typical kick off we had them stay back and see the kick instead of trying to time it up to be as close to the line as possible. The “receiving team” must be at least 10 yards past the line of scrimmage exactly like a kick off.

If you are on the opposite side of a free kick, the important thing to remember is the ball is live. If for some reason it is short or is shanked, the kicking team can recover and get the ball at the spot they recovered. Obviously with time left on the clock this is something you do not want to happen, so be sure to recover all free kicks. Any ball caught or recovered in the end zone by the receiving team will be ruled a touch back in high school.

If the ball goes through the uprights, it is worth the same as a field goal, 3 points.

Here’s something to be sure you cover with your team if you are punting. Be absolutely sure you do not interfere with the fair catch. If the team fair catching is interfered with, they will march off 15 yards and the fair catch is still awarded which means they may attempt a free kick. You don’t want to make the kick any easier.


Strategy on Using the Fair Catch Kick

1.  The end of the half is an obvious place to use this.  Many teams look to get good field position when they force the opponent to punt from their end zone at the end of the half.  Based on your timeouts and the time left, you may be better off attempting to fair catch the punt and take the free kick opportunity.  Three points on the board at the half can make a difference later in the game.  It’s much easier and probably higher percentage than running a shot at the end zone and then aligning for a long field goal.  In this situation if you are unsure, you could call for the fair catch attempt and make the decision after.

2.  If you have at least one time out left, put your offense out on the field and attempt to draw them offsides with a freeze play.  If they don’t jump you can call timeout and align your free kick.  If they do jump you can get the free five yards and be closer for your free kick.

3.  If you are up at least seven points with under two minutes left, but they have all of their timeouts, you may want to put the extra three points on the board with a free kick.

4.  At the end of the game, this is a consideration as well.  This is where being a great game manager comes into play.  Has this been a tight defensive battle?  What is the other team’s ability like in running a two minute or uptempo pace?  Do you feel confident about coming out and stopping them after going up by a few points?  If the situation warrants taking the lead and playing defense, then when you execute this play may be with more time left than just a last second kick.

Good luck this season, and remember that you can only expect your players to be competent in situations which they understand and work in practice.

If you haven’t done so yet, get a copy of 101+ Pro Style Pistol Offense Plays. It’s something that you will use as a reference both in and out of season because it’s loaded with offensive ideas and strategies. Get it here.

One Stop for Your Offense Resources

Coaches Edge Game Planning System.  Save time and be more effective.

Coaches Edge Technologies. The Best Coaches. The Best Content. Interactive.

I’ve shared my notebooks of online resources over the past few months. As you spend the last few days of preparation before the season, you may be looking for a coaching point or video to help with your installation. This post provides a link to all of the resources I’ve posted. There are hundreds of links to presentations, analysis articles, clinic articles, forum threads, and videos. All links take you to information that is free.

If you haven’t done so yet, get a copy of 101+ Pro Style Pistol Offense Plays. It’s something that you will use as a reference both in and out of season because it’s loaded with offensive ideas and strategies. Get it here.

My articles on Pistol Running Game

Pistol Offense Resources

Diamond Pistol Resources

Power O Scheme Resources

Zone Running Game Resources

Play Action Resources

Coaching the Tight End Resources

Four Vertical Resources

Quick Game Resources

Tempo and No Huddle Resources

Game Planning Resources

List of my Clinic Articles
Creating an Offensive System gives you ideas for ow to go about putting together your system with specific regard to the language and terminology to create it. Discussion on all components needed for well rounded attack and fitting together all components for a fluid system is discussed.

Tempo and Procedures Part I. Setting up procedures to attack a defense. Gives ideas of how tempo can be used in an offensive attack. Details a procedure for sideline substitution.

Tempo and Procedures Part II. Discusses slowing down tempo at times to manage the game. Details no huddle procedures to slow it down, as well a purposes for huddling.

Tempo and Procedures Part III – Speed it up. Discusses ideas for multiple uptempo procedures as well as suggestions on how to become an uptempo offense.

A Multiple Run Game with Zone Schemes. Illustrates, with plenty of video cut-ups, different ways the zone game can be used. Gives a method for simply incorporating both read game and traditional hand off into your offense.

Methods for Teaching and Practicing Your System. Discusses how to make your practices and drills fit the needs of your concepts and schemes. Coaching the tailback in the stretch play is used as an example of how to set up drills and practices that give you direct game application.

Don’t Get Jumped in the Alley. Gives detailed technique with still shots, diagrams, and video on how receivers release an alley defender. Illustrates the importance of this technique in proper distribution and spacing of routes.

Using Tight Ends in Your Offense. Discusses many different ways a tight end can be utilized in your offense. Loaded with video. Quotes from Chris Brown and Andrew Coverdale. Details how to incorporate and coach the TE. Lists the Benefits and advantages of using a tight end.

The Basics of Creating a Multiple Pass Concept. Discussion of concept based teaching and its advantages in creating a multiple passing game that extends across multiple formations and personnel groups. Lists specific steps to conceptualizing a pass play. Naked/Play Action Concept is used to illustrate concept passing.

Adding a Wrinkle: Strategies for Movement. Using motion for specific purposes: changing gap responsibility, changing defender responsibility, taking advantage of a defensive adjustment, and creating total confusion.

A Process For Adding a Wrinkle. Adding wrinkles throughout he season in order to stay ahead of the defense.

Adding a Wrinkle: Attaching a Screen to Your Best Concepts. Adding a wrinkle by creating screens off of your most successful plays and concepts.

A Bag of Tricks. Specific thoughts on installing and using gadget plays. Video on different categories of gadget plays.

Stick-Draw Concept. A variation of the popular stick draw with the quarterback as the runner. Discusses the advantages of using the QB to run the draw.

Our Evolution of the Pistol Set. Details on how the use of the pistol has evolved for us and the advantages we have found in ball handling and footwork in the run game that have led to a more effective play action game.

Pin and Pull Sweep. Why we use the pin and pull and how it has become a very multiple scheme for us. Illustration with video of the different variations and applications of the scheme. Two important considerations when adding any play to an offense.

Adding Multiplicity with a Flexible Run Scheme: The Counter Play. Illustration of how the counter play can fit into a multiple personnel, multiple formation offense. Illustration of scheme with diagrams and video.

Sweep Action to Enhance the Inside Running Game. Illustrates different types of receiver sweeps that can be used with the inside running game. Points for how to incorporate receiver sweeps.

Supplement to magazine article: An Evaluation System For Your Quarterback. Make your QB evaluations objective by focusing in certain performance criteria. Use the system to help you make decisions on exactly what need to be done in practice to get your QB performing at his best.

Multiple Passing Attack with the Spacing Concept. How you can incorporate several concepts that many offenses teach separately into one teaching concept with variations to one player. The spacing concept can be used to create horizontal stretches of the defense and is high percentage.

Distort and Displace with Double Teams. Specific illustrations of ow to create powerful double teams in both zone and gap concepts. Includes teaching progression and drills.

Just Wing It. The advantages of using a wing in any offense. Includes plenty of video of the multiple of a wing.

Four Keys to Successful Four Verticals. Explains how concept based teaching, detailed route running, a consistent progression, and simple adjustments make this a powerful passing concept.

The Play Action Pass: Tying Runs to Pass Concepts. Shows how to create a more effective and multiple play action passing game by combining components of your offense in a simple way.

More For Less: Creating Drills to Maximize Practice Time. Receiver and QB Drills are used to show how to improve multiple skills within a single drill. Discussion of setting up drills to remedy certain technique errors.

Maximize Practice Time – Coaching the Big Skill Positions: QB, RB, TE, FB, H-Back. Different thoughts in getting more out of the big skills practice time and incorporating timing for the play action pass. Drills to work these positions on video.

Evolution of the use of he quick passing game. Discussion of the quick passing game and how it is being paired with other components of offense for a more powerful attack. Examples from Dan Gonzalez, Dub Maddox, Chris Brown and others. Plenty of video examples.

Using The Proper Tool: Pulling Technique. Explanation of what different types of pulls should be used for and specifics on techniques and drills for each.

More Bang For Your Buck with the Power Scheme. Illustrates how the traditional I formation blocking scheme can be used in multiple ways.

A Process For Adding A Wrinkle

The full article with examples and video can be viewed on American Football Monthly.

As you progress through this season, there will be parts of your offense that you do very well and rely on. Defenses will gear up to stop those parts of your offense, and this will provide an opportunity to add some wrinkles that give you an advantage.

Points to remember when adding a wrinkle in-season:
1. Focus on what you do best. What personnel grouping and formation could give you an advantage in using a new look to run an effective component of your offense?
2. How do you keep it simple in adding this and what adjustment do you anticipate from your opponent? It may be best to focus on just that one play and any adjustments you will need to attack to implement this wrinkle.
3. What is the tendency after the first game of using this wrinkle? Was it effective? If so, what do you need to do next to break that tendency and bring some balance to this wrinkle? This should be your new addition for the next game.
4. Progress this way in adding to the package, and you will find that you have effectively added a full arsenal of your offensive concepts to this formation or personnel grouping over the course of a few weeks. The added dimension for what your opponent needs to spend time on to defend will be greater than the time you have used to install it. The time you spend in adding these wrinkles will be efficient and effective because at no single point in the process did you try to implement everything at once, and you progressed in a logical fashion.

If you haven’t done so yet, get a copy of 101+ Pro Style Pistol Offense Plays. It’s something that you will use as a reference both in and out of season because it’s loaded with offensive ideas and strategies. Get it here.

Trick Plays

As you are finalizing your offensive installation plans, you might want to add a few gadget plays to the install and begin repping them now. You might not use these until later in the season, but if you spend just a few practice reps each week working these, your players will perfect them and they will have a better chance for success when it’s time to use one.

Since they are something you installed early, you avoid any kind of psychological disadvantage that the players might get against a tougher opponent, like you are using tricks because that’s the only way to win this week. The tricks simply become another play in your arsenal.

Key Points for Using Tricks:
1. Know your opponent and what players on defense are quick to react to an initial key. Plan your attack here.
2. Decide when and where are the appropriate time to use these plays. Most of the time these plays are effective when the game is tight.
3. Set up the play to fit into what you do. Use looks and formations that are already part of your game plan. A formation the defense hasn’t seen sometimes causes them to play less aggressively and could be an indicator that you are doing something out of the ordinary.
4. Practice your plays but not too much. Give it a few team reps and over the week and that’s all. If there is a key mechanic involved with ball handling or a pass, let the players involved practice it separately.
5. Have fun! These plays are always fun when they work out and the players love to execute them.
Good luck with your season!

Read more and see video cut-ups of different gadget plays on American Football Monthly.

If you haven’t done so yet, get a copy of 101+ Pro Style Pistol Offense Plays. It’s something that you will use as a reference both in and out of season because it’s loaded with offensive ideas and strategies. Get it here.

Special Teams: Be More Efficient and Effective

In the next week or two most of us will be in what we all probably consider our favorite time of the year.  It’s our opportunity to focus solely on being football coaches.  There are no classes to teach, no papers to grade, and our players can focus on football as well.

This is a great opportunity to maximize this time when players and coaches have only football to focus on.  I’ve written many posts on how to use technology to make our coaching more efficient and effective.  The links to all of the can be found in “Advice to Young Coaches Taking on a Coordinator Role.” Now is the time to take advantage of the technology and engage our players before they have more on their plate.

We never seem to have enough time to get done what we want, but a teaching method borrowed from classroom teachers can allow us to do more.  The method is called flipped learning.  I will  have an article on this method as well as an online supplemental in August.

As I have been planning and preparing for our own camp, one area where I really feel this method can help a team gain advantages is special teams.  I always put an emphasis on special teams as head coach in high school, but I was never satisfied with how much time we put in, especially in the meeting room.  With offensive and defensive coordinators installing their systems, we always seemed crunched to get special teams meetings in, and there is always that point where you can tell as a coach that the players are ready to hit the field. I am responsible for the kickoff return unit at BW, and I will be creating short videos for the entire unit and each position as well.  My goal is to not only allow our players to have a better understanding of our kick return concept, but to develop depth with more players learning how to play the different positions on the unit.

Flipped learning allows you extra time for special teams by putting your installations on video and having your players view them on their own time.  It also may be an opportunity for some of those down the line players to really learn a special teams unit and step up and give a starter a break.

Jason Hahnstadt has a great website on flipped coaching and has a video that is a great example of using technology and the flipped learning method to install punt.

Jeff Floyd has a post today on using the time you have now to learn technology.  He provides some examples of how flipped coaching can be used to install concepts and drills so time on the field is spent practicing not explaining.

If you haven’t seen it yet, please take a look at my iBook available for the iPad.  It’s a great offensive resource for coaches regardless of the system used.  Get it here.

Flipping the Classroom (Flipped Coaching)

Over this past off season I have studied a teaching method known as the flipped classroom. If you have read some of my posts about “On Edge Coaching” then you are familiar with some of this methodology. I interviewed the originator of the “flipped classroom” Jon Bergmann, as well as three other coaches who use this method for my August column in American Football Monthly. There will be an online supplement to this as well. It is definitely worth the read and will present some intriguing ideas for enhancing your coaching.

In the mean time I would like to point out a few blogs that are worth reading. I mentioned Jeff Floyd’s writing on this topic in his blog. He released a new article on flipped coaching today.

Jason Hahnstadt teaches at the same school as Bergmann. He writes a blog specifically on this topic. His blog is called “The Flipped Coach.” Jon Bergmann’s blog is “Flipped Learning.”

Technology allows us to do more as coaches. The challenge is to harness it in a way that makes learning for our players more effective and leads to success on the field. Flipped learning provides a method for using technology in coaching.

My iBook for the iPad presents content in a very dynamic way that hits multiple learning styles. Get it for your iPad here.

Follow-up: Advice to young coaches taking on a (Defensive) Coordinator Role

Yesterday I posted my advice to young coaches taking on a coordinator role. The advice was from a response to a message I received. Read it here.

I also received a message from a young defensive coordinator who will be in his first season of coordinating this fall. He asked for resources for defensive game planning. There are a few links in my Game Planning Resources post, but the best I have seen on the Internet are from a series of articles by Jeff Floyd who writes a blog called “You Can Do More.”

Jeff’s blog is definitely worth following, and his series on defensive game planning is very valuable information for a defensive coach. Jeff coached at the University of Central Missouri, William and Jewell, and the high school level. He really details every aspect of what goes into a defensive game plan and provides the tools necessary to work through the process. Here are the links to his series:

Defensive Game Planning – Geneology

Weekly Work Flow

Film Breakdown and Formation Analysis

The Ready List

The Play Grid

The Call Sheet

Game Procedures


I interviewed Jeff for an article on “Flipped Coaching” which will appear in next month’s American Football Monthly. His articles on this topic are worth reading.

Stretching the Boundary

In January of 2011, Darin Slack told me, “You have to check out this tilted four verticals that Dub (Maddox) is working on.” I visited Dub later that spring and wholesale adopted this concept. It’s a great way to attack the boundary, and it’s a concept that can be implemented in any offense.

Here is an article on X&O Labs on the concept.

I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting this article to be published in X&O Labs since I had made my transition to AFM prior to its release. However, it is a very detailed article on the concept. Again, all credit goes to Dub in its development. Check out R4: From Headset to Helmet. It is a must read for offensive coaches. Whether you choose to implement R4 or not, you will come away with a deeper understanding of the passing game.

Here is a link of the Slash Concept on youtube.

Slash is part of our “Flash and Action” Passes described, diagrammed and shown on video in 101+ Pro Style Pistol Plays get it for your iPad from the iBookstore here.

A fun play: FB Draw

Last summer I wrote an article for Smart Football, “A Constraint Play for the Sprint about Pass.” This is a play I learned from my father decades ago. In honor of his birthday I thought I would post a link to it on my page. The post includes instructional video for the running back and quarterback mechanics of the play as well as cut-ups of the play dating back to the late seventies when my dad was running it as a high school coach.

Here’s the link to the article on Smart Football.

Advice to young coaches taking on a coordinator role

Follow me on twitter: @CoachKGrabowski

I received a message from a young coach in his first year as an offensive coordinator. He was looking for advice to be successful in his first year.

Here is my message to him, but I wanted to share it on this site as well as it may help someone else. I’d like to note first that I’ve developed these ideas both through trial and error, and from studying and talking to other coaches.

1. Offensive Coordinator doesn’t mean “offensive guru.” Others may want to believe you are one, but be humble and realize most of what you do has been learned through hard work and probably from others. Always thank your mentors and give them appropriate credit.

2. Coordinate does mean “bring together.” Work well with your coaches and players. Give them input and listen. Empower them and help them take ownership in what all of you are doing together.

3. Be organized. Everything starts with organization. This is one of your primary roles as a coordinator. Organize your coaching materials, meeting times, video time, walk thrus and practices for maximum efficiency. Don’t just wing it. Be sure every position coach has a schedule and a script, and a watch and a whistle. Maximum efficiency and effectiveness is your objective.

4. Be very mindful of your practice reps. When you have decided on the plays that are in your game plan, make sure you can give those plays enough reps in practice. If you can’t get them reps then take the plays out of your game plan.

5. What many teams do are very similar. If talent is near equal then attention to detail wins. Do the little things right. Your players and coaches need to understand the importance of this. Almost is not good enough.

6. Your job is not to trick the defense, it is to out execute them. Emphasize execution over finding a new scheme. Run your stuff until it becomes second nature and your players understand what adjustments they need to make to be successful.

7. Outwork your opponent, but be sure you are always looking to work smarter. Find efficiency in your work habits and you will find effectiveness. I know too many coaches who will watch film until 3am and not be effective. It’s not just about how well you know it, it’s about how well your players know it. It’s about finding balance in your life as well; get out of the office and spend time with your family.

8. Prepare your players for the situations you will face and have clear objectives for those situations. If you are faced with a two minute situation that requires a field goal and your QB is taking low percentage shots into the end zone, it’s not his fault if it’s never been practiced. Don’t make assumptions that your players will understand what to do in every situation. Teach them what you want. This goes back to organization and planning. If you want it done in a game, then make sure it is practiced. When I was coaching high school we worked a “fair catch for a free kick” situation every week. It’s a rare situation, but our players knew exactly what to do if we ended up in that situation. Have a check list of all the situations you want your players to be able to perform and be sure they are practiced.

9. Be a great teacher. Understand how players develop. They first need to learn what to do. Next they need to know how to do it, and finally they will work towards doing it aggressively. Build your teaching, practice and drills accordingly. You can’t skip a step. Being a great teacher means being able to utilize all resources, technology, and time in order to maximize your effectiveness.

For more in how players learn go here.

For methods to maximize learning, click here.

10. If you are taking over in a situation that has been successful, remember it’s easier for one person to adapt (you) than it is for the rest of the team and coaches. It will be rare that you have a situation to start from scratch. Either way you will be able to put your signature on it and move things in a direction which you see fit. Starting from scratch makes every player in your system a freshmen. In some situations this is necessary and appropriate. Spend time up front understanding your situation and what positives from the past you can build on. For more on creating an offensive system click here.

The next generation of coaches is more tech savvy. There are advantages that can be gained from using technology to teach your systems. 101+ Pro Style Pistol Plays is an example of how technology can be used to present information to multiple learning styles in a very dynamic way. It’s also full of offensive concepts and ideas that can be implemented in any offensive system not just the pistol. It’s a great resource for any offensive coach. Get it from the iBookstore here. This fall it will also be available on the Mac as the iBookstore comes to the Mac.

The following resources are helpful in presenting your systems in ways that will maximize learning for your players:

Distributing your interactive playbook

The playbook of the future

Improving learning brought the use of iPads

There’s an app for that-a tool for communication

Utilize Technology to Teach and Coach

A Method for Teaching Your Systems

Using the iPad in For Scout Cards

In August, American Football Monthly will have an article on coaching methods borrowed from classroom teaching. Look for an online supplement as well.

If this is your first year in coaching or as an offensive coordinator I wish you the best of luck. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me: