(April 21, 2007) -- Every team in the NFL has a special teams coach (some even have two). They are the coaches who teach their players to prevent the game from changing on a punt or a kickoff return. They find the guys who can block, which is very important. They are the coaches you see on the sideline during games, urging their players to cover those kickoffs, stay in their lanes and keep an eye out just in case there is an onside kick.
The onside kick can really be dangerous. In 2005, nearly all onside kicks failed. Only 4 of 50 attempts (8.0 percent) worked when an opposing team anticipated the onside kick. In this past year, the teams were more successful, converting 13 of 49 though teams were 7 of 13 on surprise attempts. Remember the onside kick last year that came on the opening kickoff of the second half of the Bears-Jets game with the score 0-0? The Bears recovered on the Jets 44-yard line and kicked a 20-yard field goal to go ahead 3-0. Special teams coach Dave Toub had his team well-prepared for this type of surprise.
In 2006, 61 of 256 games during the regular season were decided by three points or less (24 percent). In 2005, 23.4 percent of the games were decided by three points or less. In 2005, two teams, the Dallas Cowboys and the Kansas City Chiefs, missed field goals that caused them to miss the playoffs.
In general, players on kickoff return teams are made up mostly of linebackers, defensive backs and bigger wide receivers. On field goal units and punt teams, more offensive linemen are involved. A deep snapper is a very, very important member of this unit. Many players earn a roster spot based on their ability to play on special teams.
Here are some of the better special teamers from the 2006 season:
1. Brendon Ayanbadejo, Bears
2. Ryan Fowler, Cowboys*
3. Clinton Hart, Chargers
4. Ethan Kilmer, Bengals
5. Quintin Mikell, Eagles
6. Kassim Osgood, Chargers
7. Bernard Pollard, Chiefs
8. Gary Stills, Ravens
9. David Tyree, Giants
* Fowler will play for Tennessee in '07.
Granted, these guys are not household names like Peyton Manning or Vince Young, but ask any NFL coach about them and they'll tell you just how valuable they are.
There are some very good coaches who spend many hours during the season and offseason working on ways to improve what they do. These eight coaches continue to earn praise from their peers:
Bobby April, Bills
Joe DeCamillis, Jaguars
Bruce DeHaven, Seahawks
Alan Lowery, Titans
Joe Marcino, Texans
Brad Seeley, Patriots
Dave Toub, Bears
Mike Westhoff, Jets
Note: Two very good special team coaches, Chuck Priefer and Mike Sweatman, retired after last season and will be missed.
Before we start ranking the players, let's mention that the kickers and punters who went to the Combine did not lift weights or run shuttles. They were measured and weighed and then they did what the do best: kick the football.
Below are my rankings for kickers, punters, long snappers, kick coverage players and kick returners.
1. Nick Folk, Arizona (6-1 3/8, 225)
Folk earned four letters in high school in both football and soccer. He was awarded a scholarship to Arizona and redshirted his first year (2002). In 2003, he went 0 for 3 in the final four games of the season. As first-team kicker in 2005, he led the conference in punting (44.7 avg. on 22 punts). For his career, he made 30 of 47 field goals and averaged 64 yards on kickoffs. He's a right-footed, soccer-style kicker who would rather placekick than punt.
Name the only kicker to be selected NFL MVP by The Associated Press.Answer below
2. Mason Crosby, Colorado (6-1¼, 212)
Crosby was a kicker and soccer player in high school. He kicked a 59-yard field goal, the third-longest in Texas high school history, and also played safety. He did not kick well at the Combine or Senior Bowl. He needs to work on better technique. He has a strong leg; he kicked 138 of 203 kickoffs for touchbacks with 88 going out of the end zone. He also kicked a 58-yard field goal at Miami in 2005 and a 56-yard field goal against Texas Tech in 2006. He converted 66 of 88 field goals in four years at Colorado.
3. Justin Medlock, UCLA (5-11 5/8, 201)
Medlock earned letters in both football and soccer in high school. He redshirted in 2002. He kicked 137 extra points -- a UCLA record -- and converted 70 of 88 field goals in his career at UCLA. He lacks great leg strength for kickoffs and had some off-field problems in 2005. He has a very quick approach to the ball and 20 of his 72 kickoffs went into the end zone in 2006.
4. John Vaughn, Auburn (6-0½, 195)
Vaughn wasn't invited to the Combine. He was a kicker and soccer player in high school (five-year starter in soccer). He set a Tennessee high school record for career field goals with 39. He was a four-year starter at Auburn. He kicked 6 of 10 field goals as a true freshman in 2003. He needs to go to a team where someone else kicks off.
Every year kickers get more and more accurate with their field goals, making them a very valuable part of the game plan. The following is a breakdown for field-goal percentages at 10-year increments for the last 40 years:
1965: 54.1 percent
1975: 64.1 percent
1985: 72.2 percent
1995: 77.4 percent
2005: 80.3 percent
1. Daniel Sepulveda, Baylor (6-2 7/8, 229)
Sepulveda played linebacker and punter for Highland Park High School in Dallas and was also a member of the track team. He walked on at Baylor and redshirted in 2002. He tore his right anterior cruciate ligament in April of 2006 in a pickup basketball game. He's a left-footed kicker with a very strong leg. He's able to put backspin on the ball for kicks inside the 10-yard line. He's a good kicking prospect and will work hard to get better.
2. Adam Podlesh, Maryland (5-11, 202)
Podlesh played fullback and linebacker in high school and ran on the 4x100 relay team that won a state championship. He was highly recruited out of high school and ended up being a four-year starter at Maryland. He doesn't have the greatest leg strength. He's a two-step punter with good pop and great form. He's a very good athlete.
DID YOU KNOW?
1. Three playoff teams from 2006 had rookie punters:
Sam Koch, Ravens
Ryan Plackemeier, Seahawks
Steve Weatherford, Saints
2. The highest any kicker was ever selected in the draft was sixth overall (Charles Gogolak by Washington). He kicked for six years and made 52 of 93 field-goal attempts (55.9 percent).
3. The first person to have the title of special teams coach was Marv Levy, current general manager of the Buffalo Bills.
4. Both kickers in Super Bowl XLI were undrafted out of college (Adam Vinatieri, Colts and Robbie Gould, Bears).
5. Mark Moseley was the last NFL kicker to kick field goals straight on. His last year was 1986. For his 16-year NFL career, he made 300 field goals in 457 attempts (65.6 percent).
Other punters in alphabetical order
Brendan Carney, Syracuse (6-3 7/8, 203)
Carney has value as a kickoff man. He had problems with kicks being blocked prior to his senior year.
Brandon Fields, Michigan State (6-4 7/8, 239)
Fields played offensive and defensive line in high school and led the nation in 2004 in punting average (47.9 per kick). He can kick off, but needs to improve his drop.
Adam Graessle, Pittsburgh (6-4 3/8, 215)
Graessle was a punter and basketball player in high school. He played as a true freshman at Pittsburgh and was a kickoff specialist in 2003. He punted and kicked off the past three years.
Alex Reyes, Texas Tech (6-0¾, 232)
Reyes was the first players ever at Texas Tech under Mike Leach to receive a scholarship as a special teamer. He played as a true freshman, averaging 43 yards on 28 punts. He did not kick off at Texas Tech.
1. Tully Janszen, Texas (6-2 3/8, 253, 4.90)
Janszen wasn't invited to the Combine. He played on special teams and as a backup defensive lineman. He has the athletic ability to cover and make tackles. He can zip the ball back with good accuracy to the punter of field-goal holder. He should snap for a long time. He's a good person and Texas deep snappers have traditionally done well in the NFL.
2. Nick Leeson, Virginia Tech (6-1½, 255, 5.09)
Leeson worked out at the Combine. He played three sports in high school: football, basketball and baseball. He has very good velocity and accuracy. He needs to improve on coverage. He's a good prospect.
3. Aaron King, Texas El-Paso (6-0¾, 239, 4.85)
King worked out at the Combine. He was a linebacker and quarterback in high school. He played as a true freshman as a deep snapper. His father played football at Texas Tech. He gets the ball back with accuracy and velocity. He led the team in punt coverage tackles.
4. Jared Retkofsky, Texas Christian (6-4 7/8, 285, 4.96)
Retkofsky worked out at the Combine, running two 40s in 4.91 and 5.00 and notching a 30-inch vertical jump and an 8-foot-10 long jump. He was a high school running back with over 2,000 yards in two years. He was a backup defensive lineman at TCU. He's a good deep snapper and should make a team.
1. Daniel Francis, LSU (5-10 5/8, 191, 4.50)
Francis ran a 4.5 40-yard dash and notched a 36½-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot-5 long jump and 18 bench presses at the LSU Pro Day. He was an outstanding high school athlete, playing running back and defensive back. He scored 46 touchdowns in two years as a running back and was a four-year starter on the basketball team. He played as a true freshman with 219 plays, 196 of them coming on special teams (where he notched 15 tackles). He can be an extra cornerback, a lot like Randall Gay of the Patriots.
2. Andrew Shanle, Nebraska (6-1, 212, 4.40)
Shanle worked out at the Nebraska Pro Day, running two 40s in 4.40 and 4.40. He also recorded a 38½-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-11 long jump, a 4.09 short shuttle, a 6.80 three-cone drill and 16 bench presses. Shanle played quarterback in high school and ran track, winning the state 100 meters in Nebraska. He was a one-year starter but has been a very good special teams player. He played and safety and had four interceptions last year.
1. Ted Ginn, Ohio State (5-11¼, 178, 4.41)
Unable to work out at the Combine, he ran two 40s in 4.38 and 4.45 at Ohio State (April 11_ at less than 100 percent. He led the nation in 2004 with a 25.6 punt return average and four touchdowns. He had a 29.6 kickoff return average in 2005. He is outstanding as a returner.
2. Yamon Figurs, Kansas State (5-11¼, 174, 4.35)
Figurs worked out at the Combine and ran two 40s in 4.30 and 4.30. He also recorded a 32½-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot-3 long jump, a 4.21 short shuttle and a 6.85 three-cone drill. He had very good return skills and is also good covering punts. He has the speed and quickness needed and is very elusive. He's tough for a player who is very thin.
Mark Moseley in 1982 while playing for the Washington Redskins. He converted 20 of 21 field goals during the regular season.
3. Quinton Jones, Boise State (5-9 3/8, 182, 4.42)
He ran his 40s in 4.41 and 4.43 on his Pro Day. He also notched a 35-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot-8 long jump and has small hands at 8¾-inches. He's a very good return man who has outstanding quickness.
4. Syndric Steptoe, Arizona (5-8 5//8, 194, 4.62)
Steptoe ran his two 40s in 4.59 and 4.65 seconds. He also recorded a 33-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot-4 long jump, a 4.31 short shuttle and a 7.04 three-cone drill. He has set the school record returning kickoffs. He returned 35 kickoffs in 2005 and 2006 for 893 yards. He started out returning punts and kickoffs.