It seems that the job of punting shouldn’t be that hard for a kicker - a kicker needs a powerful leg anyway, and punting is about the most straightforward job in football that there is. Could a football team save a roster spot by having the kicker do double duty?
It’s a different motion all together (side of the foot vs top of the foot), and they’re going for different things. Punting isn’t all that straight forward. You want the kick to have enough hang time to prevent a return. You’re also trying to get as close as possible to the end zone without going in.
Also, the punter is usually the holder for the place kicker.
Up until the 1960s, in the NFL, specialists (kickers and punters) frequently were players who also played another position (for example, during Vince Lombardi’s tenure with the Packers, both running back Paul Hornung, and guard Jerry Kramer, also served as placekickers), and it wasn’t uncommon for one player to both kick and punt. But, with the influx of soccer-style placekickers in the 1960s and 1970s (many of whom were former soccer players, often from Europe, who had never otherwise played American football), kicking (and punting) specialists became the norm.
In the years since then, several NFL teams have tried to have one player fill both roles – teams would love to be able to effectively open up another roster spot by having the kicker do double-duty as the punter. However, as enalzi notes, the two positions actually have different motions, and different skill sets (despite the outward similarity).
The last time it was really seriously tried was in the late 1970s, when the Saints and Cardinals both spent first-round draft choices on players whom they thought could fill both positions (Russell Erxleben and Steve Little, respectively). Both players flamed out (particularly on the kicking side of things), and the conventional wisdom now seems to be that, in order to function at an NFL level, a player needs to focus on one, or the other.
That said, for most NFL teams, their punter also serves as their backup placekicker (and vice-versa), and it’s not entirely unusual for a team which has an aging placekicker (still accurate, but his leg may not be as strong as it once was) to have their punter handle kickoffs.
At lower levels of play, I imagine that it’s not uncommon for one player to fill both roles (particularly in high school).
Would the two plays also have different response teams on the player’s side, so they’d need to swap people out depending on how far out the expected the ball to go?
I’m not sure if you’re referring to the kicking team, or the defensive team, in your question, so, I’ll answer both.
On the kicking side, the placekick team (extra point or field goal) and the punt team likely share some members – the long snapper*, for certain, and probably some of the interior linemen, as well. However, the two plays have enough differences that there are undoubtedly some differences in who the kicking team has on the field.
On a placekick, everyone not directly involved in the kick (the snapper, the holder, and the kicker) has only one job: block the defenders, and keep them from blocking the kick. In the NFL, at least, a return on a placekick is very rare, and so, no one on the kicking team usually needs to worry about heading downfield after the kick.
Conversely, while the punt team needs to block the defensive rushers (who are attempting to block the punt), the punt team also has two players (usually flanked out like wide receivers at the start of the play), who immediately start running downfield to cover the punt (to tackle the punt returner, or down the punt if it’s not fielded). And, after the punter punts the ball, other members of the punt team (who had been blocking) will also head downfield to cover the punt.
On the defensive side, again, there are some similarities (i.e., trying to block the kick / punt), and the two teams probably share some players, but it’s likely not entirely the same team. If a team is defending a placekick, the defense’s only role is usually to try to block the kick; the defense will usually have all of its players on or near the line of scrimmage, and fairly close to the ball. The exception to this is if the kicking team is attempting a very long field goal (over 55 yards or so) – in this case, there’s a fairly good chance that a missed kick will fall short of the end line, and so, the defense may put their punt returner back near the goalposts, in case there’s a chance to return a missed kick.
When defending a punt, the defensive players are usually in one of three groups:
- Those rushing the punter, attempting to block the punt (typically six or so of them).
- Several players who are trying to block / impede / slow down the punt team’s two coverage men – it’s not uncommon to see two defenders assigned to each coverage man. If the punt is fielded, they also become the returner’s blockers.
- One return man.
If the defensive team is going all-out to try to block the punt, they may put more, or all, of their players in the first group.
- The long snapper is another example of how specialized the NFL has become – it’s the standard now for teams to have a player who only acts as long snapper (on placekicks and punts). Up through the 1970s or 1980s, NFL teams usually had one of their regular centers act as long snapper.
A little digging indicates that, other than the rare occasions when a punter has had to fill in for an injured kicker (or vice-versa), the last time that an NFL team intentionally assigned both roles to one player was 2006, when the Falcons started the season naming Michael Koenen as both their punter and kicker. That lasted for two games – Koenen missed four of the six field goals he tried, and they then signed Morten Andersen (who was then 46 years old) to act as kicker for the rest of the season (Koenen remained as their punter).
Prior to that, the last full-time kicker / punter was Frank Corral, who filled both roles for the Rams in 1980 and 1981.
Thanks, kenobi 65, that is interesting! And it explains why teams are willing to use a roster spot for some very specialized players (kicker, punter, long snapper). It seems with so much riding on every game, and every play in every game, the team owners think it’s worth it to pay for someone who is probably one of the top 25 people in the world who do that job.
And, since these players don’t see a lot of plays in a game, it’s unlikely they will get injured, and put the team in a pinch. I can see how the kicker and punter can back-up each other if an injury occurs, but what happens with the long snapper? I think that is a skill - maybe they have the other centers practice it as well, just in case?
My recollection is that George Allen, head coach of the Rams and Redskins in the 1960s and 1970s, led the way in splitting the kicking duties. He was a big innovator with special teams (IIRC he actually coined the phrase) and was willing to give up a roster spot to have a good placekicker and a punter with good hang time. (He may have been the first coach to measure that, too - can’t remember for sure.)
Short answer: on the rare occasions when a long snapper gets hurt, it often gets messy. Much like how kicking and punting might look superficially similar, but aren’t, long snapping is a different technique from a shotgun snap, so it’s not something that the team’s center can easily switch into.
As that article notes, some teams are lucky enough to have another player on their roster with experience as a long snapper, but my guess is that, with the limited amount of practice time available, and the rarity of injuries to long snappers, it’s just not something that they devote any practice time to for a backup.
George Blanda played until age 48 and he’s in the hall of fame. He was a QB and a place kicker.
No, the split predates Allen. Going back to 1965, the year before Allen first became a head coach, only five of the 14 NFL teams had a single individual as both kicker and punter. Some of the one-way kickers saw at least occasional service at other positions, but even in that era, many didn’t.
Going back to earlier eras, when substitution rules were stricter, almost every kicker doubled as a position player. But even then, there would usually (not always) be one player who handled punting and a different one who handled kicking. The 1950 New York Giants, to take a random example, had defensive end Ray Poole handle the kicking and some guy named Tom Landry (a DB) to handle the punting.
I think this is a key factor. Kicking the ball is a specialist role and it’s too critical to rely on just one player who might get injured. You need to have a back-up.
And if you’re going to have two kicking specialists on your roster, you might as well have them specialize. Have one player be your primary field goal kicker and back-up punter and the other one be your primary punter and back-up field goal kicker.
Blanda was a classic example of how kicking was handled before the days of specialized kickers. (He also did a little punting early in his career.)
Other Hall of Famers who did double-duty include Lou Groza (offensive tackle / kicker), Sammy Baugh (quarterback / punter), and Don Hutson (offensive end / kicker), as well as Hornung and Kramer, whom I mentioned earlier (and probably others from the early days of football, when the substitution rules were strict, as Freddy the Pig notes).
What does soccer-style mean in this context? Doesn’t seem on the face of it that taking a free-kick in soccer is that similar to a field goal.
That doesn’t always work either. Last season, the Eagles place kicker Jake Elliot (who was himself replacing the injured Caleb Sturgis) was injured in a game against the Cowboys. After he was pulled, the Eagles didn’t even attempt another field goal or 1 pt conversion - Doug Jones continued to handle the punts, and special teams/LB Kamu Grugier-Hill took over kickoffs, but the coach didn’t trust either of them to try a field goal or PAT. They wound up going for it on a 4th & 5 at one point instead of kicking what would normally be an easy field goal, and went for 2 points on all 4 touchdowns after Elliot left the game.
Prior to the early 1960s, all placekicking in American football was a method that was called “toe style” or “straight on” – the kicker lined up straight behind the holder, and kicked with a purely back-to-front, pendulum-style kicking motion. Kickers wore square-toed kicking shoes, to make sure that they made flush contact with the ball.
(In the early days of football, even before toe-style kicking, the preferred method of kicking field goals and extra points was the “drop kick”, which looks a lot like a punt, except that the ball actually bounces off the ground before it’s kicked. This style fell out of favor when the football was made more oblong, and the ends made pointier, to facilitate passing.)
Starting in the 1960s, a different style of kicking began to take hold. It was initially popularized by players like brothers Pete and Charlie Gogolak, who had played soccer before immigrating to the U.S. from Hungary with his family in the late 1950s. A “soccer style” kicker approaches the holder and the placed ball at an angle, rather than straight on (the style was sometimes called “sidewinder” for this reason), and kicks the ball with a sweeping motion, rather than a pendulum motion. A soccer-style kicker makes contact with the ball with the top of his instep, rather than his toe.
In the 1960s and 1970s, as this new kicking style became popular, many of the NFL’s kickers wound up being former soccer players (often from Europe). Eventually, as soccer-style kicking became prevalent, and as players on American football teams in high schools and colleges grew up using the technique, the phenomenon of the European kicker in the NFL faded. The last toe-style kicker in the NFL was Moseley, who retired after the 1986 season; it’s generally felt that, due to the better foot-to-ball surface area, soccer-style kicking is more accurate than toe-style, and, with the longer kicking motion, able to generate more distance.
Here’s a picture of a soccer-style kicker making his approach to the ball (note that he’s a left-footer), one of a kicker winding up to make a kick, one of the follow-through, and a video clip.
Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian was no QB , but he did throw a TD pass in the 1973 Super Bowl. Unfortunately the TD was for the other team. Lucky for him the Dolphins won the game.
Well, he tried to throw, anyway. ;). Officially, the scorers ruled that play a fumble and recovery. As it was coming off of a blocked field goal, it wouldn’t have been a legal pass, anyway (not that Yepremian likely knew that).
Youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfswgvcP-Ug
I played soccer in high school and I learned to kick with my in step. Kicking with the toe seems so bizarre. You have so much more power and control with the in step. I say that as someone who used to accidentally kick with my toe and watching the ball weakly go in a random angle from the kick.
Think of it like hitting a puck with a hockey stick. Do you slap it with the flat of the stick, or chop at it with the edge like an axe?
I stand corrected. Thanks for the education.