Special teams win games. If you’re a player trying to make a roster, from high school all the way up to the pros, being good at them can win you a job. (Want to be a kicker? Become An NFL Kicker by Playing Soccer Off-Season.)
Take a player like 5’8” San Diego Chargers running back Danny Woodhead, who earned playing time in New England at multiple positions. Or new Cincinnati Bengals DE Margus Hunt, who was drafted 53rd overall despite having played football for only five years.
One reason scouts were so high on Hunt: He blocked an NCAA record 10 field goals during his career at SMU, and he swatted away seventeen kicks (field goals/PAT’s) in all. While Hunt’s 6’8” frame certainly worked in his favor, there are a few techniques that all players can use to improve their chances of batting down a kicked football. (Learn from the best: Josh Cribbs’ Special Teams Success.)
Hit the Spot
The block spot is the place on the field where a defender should rush to in order to block a kick. The spot varies by opponent, depending on factors like the number of steps a punter takes and the height of kicker’s field goal trajectory. The general rule is to rush to a spot about two yards in front of the punter or holder. Get there quickly enough and you will be in position to block a kick while also limiting your risk of drawing a penalty for running into or roughing the kicker.
Get Ready, Get Set
A good stance for rushing a kick resembles the starting stance of an Olympic sprinter. Almost all of your weight should be on your down hand; your feet should be positioned in a narrow base with only a slight stagger; and your shoulders should be below your hips, forcing you to explode forward out of the stance. Another trick is to angle your stance so that your body is pointing at the block spot. Even slight changes in direction will slow you down, so the less you do so, the better.
Whereas on most plays you would typically focus on the blocker in front of you, when rushing a kick you should turn your head slightly toward the ball to get a better view of it. The long snapper will likely telegraph the snap either by rocking his hips, sinking lower into his stance, or tightening his grip on the football. When you see one of these tells, take advantage and make your move as the ball is being snapped (instead of playing catch-up afterward).
You’ve exploded off the line and blown past the blocker. It’s just you and the kicker now. Time to finish the job.
Whatever you do, don’t jump or dive. Doing so slows you down and limits your body control, reducing the odds of getting a block and making a penalty more likely. Instead, run through the block spot as if it were a finish line. (When was the last time you saw Usain Bolt finish a race with a dive?)
When you cross the block spot, reach out with both hands just below chest level, crossing your arms at the wrists and touching the tips of your little fingers together. This supports your wrists to prevent injury while providing the widest surface area for blocking the kick.
If the kicker’s trajectory is low, like on long field goals, it’s possible to block the kick without reaching the block spot. Only in these instances is leaping a safe option. But remember: using the back of a teammate to try and jump higher will get you flagged.