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Punting Formations: A Guide To Safe Punting

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Not a whole lot has been written about punting schemes, so I wanted to take a chance to teach all of you how rugby punting works. This is not how every team will run it, it is a pretty simple scheme that can be run from a few different formations depending on how teams prefer to punt. The scheme I will be talking about will be run from the shield formation. When I played we called it "red" because we had a right footed kicker and right and red both start with R.

Red Punt

Red Punt

To start with, you want each player on the front line about three yards from each other. The outermost player is referred to as the end, the second guy is the tackle, the middle guy is the guard. Ends are usually wide receivers or corners, tackles are safety/outside linebacker types, and guards are tight end/middle linebacker types. Widening out like this forces teams to spread out to cover the two outermost players, as well as making covering the width of the field easier for the punting team. Does this mean it is easier for pressure to get through? Absolutely. The three guys behind the front line, the formations titular "shield", need to be very good blockers. They will not have difficult coverage responsibilities, they are there to block first and foremost. A particularly athletic backup defensive end could do it. The two front guys in the shield are about eight yards back, with the middle man a step or two behind them, shaded to a side so the snap can reach the punter. The punter is standing around fifteen yards back, directly behind the long snapper.

The players on the front line, with the exception of the long snapper, are supposed to block the player to their right. The long snapper has to get a good snap off, then he free releases to go get the punt returner. The blocking technique does not require they really engage all that seriously, more that they get across the face of the guy to their right and make it too difficult to get to the punter before he can kick it. The punter, bear in mind, is running like crazy away from the rush and should get a kick off in a few seconds. You don’t need much. Once the ball is kicked they will take lanes aiming diagonally towards the right sideline. The goal is to pin the punt returner down on the right sideline or get a punt that the returner doesn’t catch and just keeps rolling down the field.

The three guys in the shield all have slightly different variations of making sure no one slips through the line and kills the punter. The furthest player to the right is tasked with making sure the right edge is sealed, and will serve as the backup contain player to the right side. The middle player is taking an area roughly from the right tackle to the long snapper, and is basically told go get the ball. The left most player is asked to seal off the left side of the line, block the most dangerous man, and take off to the left to serve as an emergency contain player.

The punter has a pretty simple job, starting with making absolutely sure he catches the snap. A punt is only slightly above a turnover, but still, a punt is far better than a fumbled punt attempt. Once the punter catches the snap he begins making a half circle towards the line of scrimmage, holding the ball for as long as he can without risking the punt being blocked. The longer he holds it the further downfield his front line can cover, and the less likely their is to be a dangerous return. If the punter has to punt he will kick the ball on the run, with the goal for it to tumble end over end. This has the dual bonus of being hard to catch and making the punt roll further downfield if the returner doesn’t catch it. The punter does have another option, though, if no one is in any position to tackle him before he can get a first down the punter is allowed to pull the ball down and take off. You may remember seeing this before. This added bonus is what makes the rugby punt so dangerous, there is always the threat of a fake, a fumbled punt return, or the ball slowly dribbling twenty yards downfield as the opposing coach fumes.