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Football: Special Teams

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Punt returner catching ball
Source: US Army
When we think of football we often just think of the offensive and the defensive teams, but there is a third team that plays an important role in every game. That is the special teams.

The special teams are made up of four main groups of players: Are special teams important?

Many people write off special teams as not being very important. The players on the special team generally are not star players. However, special teams can often determine the outcome of the game. A big punt or kick off return for long yardage or a touchdown can change the score quickly and turn the momentum of the game. Many games are determined by a last minute field goal. Also, close games are often determined by field position and the punting team has a huge impact on field position.

What is field position?

Field position is where the offense starts with the ball. It determines how far they have to go to score. Good field position can mean the difference between scoring or not scoring. Many times the team with the best field position throughout the game wins.


The first team on the field is the kickoff special team on offense and the kickoff return team on defense. The goal of the kickoff team is to kick the ball as far down the field as possible and then tackle the ball return specialist quickly.

Typically 5 players will line up to each side of the kicker. When the kicker kicks the ball they will run down the field and try to tackle the ball carrier. The team usually has a strategy. For example, they may kick the ball to one side of the field so they can converge on that side. A few players will hang back to tackle the ball carrier if he makes it through the first line of defenders.

Generally any time the ball carrier is tackled inside the 20 yard line, this is considered a successful kickoff.


When the offense gets to fourth down and they are too far away to kick a field goal, they will usually punt the ball. Although this gives the ball to the other team, it gives them the ball much further down the field in worse field position.

The punter is the main player on the punting team. He kicks the ball as high and far as he can. There are two players at each side of the field called ends. These players release down the field as soon as the ball is snapped. They try to get to the ball carrier just after he catches the ball to tackle him. Prior to the ball being kicked the rest of the team blocks the defenders so they can't block the punt. Once the ball is kicked they release down the field to help tackle the ball carrier.

Punt and Kick Returns

On the other side of the kicking and punting special teams are the punt and kick return teams. These teams are made up of a returner and blockers. They try to set up a return and gain yardage after the ball is caught. The punt returner is generally a fast player who also plays wide receiver, running back, or in the secondary.

Field Goals

This special team group is responsible for kicking field goals and extra points. It is made up of the snapper, blockers, the holder, and the place kicker. Although this team may get on the field for only a few plays during the game, those plays can be critical. Many games come down to a last minute field goal. Having a clutch kicker can make all the difference.

More Football Links:

Football Rules
Football Scoring
Timing and the Clock
The Football Down
The Field
Referee Signals
Football Officials
Violations that Occur Pre-Snap
Violations During Play
Rules for Player Safety
Player Positions
Running Back
Offensive Line
Defensive Line
The Secondary
Football Strategy
Offense Basics
Offensive Formations
Passing Routes
Defense Basics
Defensive Formations
Special Teams

How to...
Catching a Football
Throwing a Football
How to Punt a Football
How to Kick a Field Goal

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