Author: Greg Laboissonniere
Originally Published: September 19, 2005

Possession Football or Position Football?

By Greg Lab

The modern era of football has a possession frame of mind. The paradox is that the advocates of ball control aren’t thinking that it’s possible to control the ball on defense or at least control the flow of the ball.

The current thinking is that the punt is only a defensive tool to escape from a less than ideal position or situation. In essence what they have done, is to let the defense control what their next move will be by waiting until 4th down to gain needed yardage. This is a do-or-die concept and in many cases gives the opponent an advantage because of the lack of surprise.

The receiving team now has the ability to set up a return scheme or in other words take the offensive in a chaotic situation. You’ve given your opponent a chance to block your punch and counter punch at the same time by telegraphing your move.

The “antiquated” idea of field position suggests that you should be kicking the ball to gain the advantage of field position before you begin an offensive assault on the opponent’s goal. There were game plans that called for quick kicking on 1st or 2nd downs to gain an advantage if you thought your punter was better than your opponents or if your defense was the strong point of your team or both! The thinking was that the odds of scoring from a 50 yard drive were better than from a 75 yard drive, so why show the defense your offensive maneuvers until the most opportune time.

The “wide open” style of play has made this strategy unrealistic even at the lowest levels of competition. Even though youth levels resemble the “old” style of 3 yards and a cloud of dust, you would not be doing your students any justice by using such a strategy today.

I do believe, however, that there is a middle ground for using this strategy in a timely situation. By changing my thinking from defensive to offensive I can control with a pretty good degree of accuracy where my opponent will take over and when he will take over and with a lower degree of risk involved than from normal punt formation. The element of surprise gives the offense the advantage of knowing when the kick is coming and therefore a chance to cause chaos with the opponent by being aggressive and attacking rather than being passive and practicing damage control on defense. The advantages are physical and emotional.

A punt being defensive in nature implies that the defense has stopped the offensive drive. A quick kick can suggest that the offense has merely postponed it’s drive to increase the probability of scoring through a more favorable field position or decreasing the chances of your opponent scoring by worsening his position.

There are numerous factors as to making a decision to use this strategy which we will discuss later and will cause you to ask yourself, POSSESSION OR POSITION?

Tricks of the Trade

My dad always said everyone should have a trade. How many times have you watched a carpenter or a mechanic perform a task that once you saw it done you say, “Wow, so that’s how you do that”!! It probably wasn’t too difficult it’s just that either through experience or a lesson from a journeyman, he learned the tricks of the trade.

I look at the Quick Kick in the same way. Maybe that’s because I love the Single Wing. Maybe it’s because I grew up watching Felix the Cat and his bag of tricks. The Quick Kick is just another tool for your bag of tricks, a tool you may not need or use too often but at your disposal nonetheless for that special occasion.

The game of football is a game of opportunities. Opportunities taken, not taken, tried, lost and blown. They decide the outcome of every single game ever played!

The Single Wing offense is the perfect offense to take advantage of an opportunity such as the Quick Kick or the Fake Quick Kick! The defense has to play honest or pay the price. Many coaches pass to loosen up a defense that is stacking the box. The main goal is not necessarily the completion of the pass but to back up the defense. The future threat of another pass may be more useful to the offense than the pass itself if the defense overplays that threat. That is a trick of the trade!

At the youth level and even into high school, the orientation is mainly a running offense because the probability of gaining yardage from a pass is much lower than from a run for numerous reasons which I won’t discuss here. But I do need to ask the question, are the odds of gaining 30 or 40 yards greater with a pass or a punt?

I know in the past I have thrown a long pass on 4th down figuring if it got intercepted it was like a punt and if we caught it, it was a bonus! The problem with this was that it almost never was completed or intercepted and I generally didn’t have a 10-year old kid that could heave a ball 30 or 40 yards. Another problem with this thinking is that team morale could only be lifted if we completed the pass! The kids aren’t familiar with strategy yet but they love a secret! They love to play tricks! So, imagine the thrill they get when they pull off a play with a secret weapon!! Use this!

Pulling the Trigger

OK Coach, so when do I use this Quick Kick? I say whenever you need to gain yardage that you haven’t been able to attain by other offensive means and if the advantage you will gain outweighs the risk. Of course, the conditions should be right for using this tool. The man you are trying to overcome with this tool is the safety. What are the optimal conditions?

  1. The safety is playing shallow.
  2. The wind is either nil or at your back.
  3. Use it when they least expect it.

One thing about youth football is that a Quick Kick is a surprise even on 4th down!! I will give you 3 examples of when I used the Quick Kick and my strategy for each.

Example 1

In a playoff game 2 years ago, we held a 7–0 lead with under 2 minutes to go and we were inside our own 5-yard line. We had already repelled 2 offensive attacks that made it inside our 10. It was cold and snowy and it had been a rough game. They had just stuffed us up 3 times and we were on our 2-yard line. My coaches wanted me to take the safety. I disagreed because I felt the best they could do at that point in the game was tie us. If we took the safety and they happened to break a play we lose the game. At this time I called for the Quick Kick, my kicker shot it out to the 30-yard line with no return. We stopped them on 4 downs and won the game. The opposing coach congratulated me for making a call like that because they never expected it and had the box completely stacked.

I considered this an offensive move because of the surprise involved and the yards I needed to gain to decrease their probability of scoring. My kids were really pumped after this when they were looking very tired just prior to. They had breathing room and the pressure was now on the other team instead of on them.

Example 2

Last season in our first game, I used the Quick Kick halfway through the 4th quarter when we were on our opponent’s 40-yard line. It had been a defensive battle, and we were down 7–6. I had already run the ball numerous times on 4th down to no avail. It was 4th and a long 3 yards. We kicked it to the 10-yard line. Our defense held them and we got the ball back with enough time to score. Unfortunately they stopped us at the 3 and held onto the ball to win the game but the Quick Kick gave us a better opportunity to score than from the 40-yard line.

This was an offensive move because we needed to score and our defense had been holding them. There was still plenty of time especially if we had the ball 30 yards closer to the goal. It put us in better position than we were in.

Example 3

Last season in the state championship game (ironically against the team in example 2), I Quick Kicked late in the 4th quarter again. This time we were leading 14–7 with about 4 minutes to go in the game. They had broken off numerous long gainers but had not had a sustained drive since the first half. We had stopped them numerous times on downs and on turnovers. Once again on 4th and about 4 yards from near their 40-yard line my kicker sent it to their 10-yard line. They drove the ball to our 30-yard line before we stopped them on downs. The 30 yards we gained on the kick became the difference in the game.

I considered this kick offensive in nature because it put pressure on their offense to go 90 yards in under 4 minutes with a ground attack. I figured the odds of gaining 30 yards from the Quick Kick were better than the odds of gaining the first down and decreased their odds of scoring by adding 30 yards further to go. I don’t know what the actual probability was with the increased yardage, I just know it was substantially higher. If they could go 90 yards for the score they deserved it. They only got 60. We took two knees and the championship.

Another thing to consider in the Quick Kicking game is maybe the opponent will make an error in judgment and you will get the ball back immediately. But once again that is a bonus. The Quick Kick is a prudent play because it puts pressure on your opponent.

Technique

The Quick Kick can be taught easier than a normal punt, especially in a Single Wing style offense. The long snapper is already used to snapping the ball 5 to 6 yards anyway. The biggest problem especially at the youth level is making sure the backs and line move forward and not backwards into the kickers path.

There are a few techniques of kicking the ball. One is called a Rocker Step and the other is the 1-Step kick. The Rocker step is just what it implies, the kicker rocks back on his left foot (right footed kicker) as he receives the pass from center, steps forward with his left and kicks with his right foot in a pendulum like leg swing.

Dr. Ken Keuffel uses what he calls his runaway method. The kicker, upon calling the cadence, begins to “runaway” and tries to time the snap from center, so when he takes his 1-Steps he will be no closer to the line of scrimmage than where he started. The steps are (right footed kicker) a step forward with the right, a full step with the left and kick with the right in the same pendulum motion.

The ball should be placed near the foot rather than dropping it. A line drive end over end type of kick is preferable because it will generally get more roll than a spiral type. The kick can be aimed away from the safety but the idea is not to kick it out of bounds, it’s to let it roll and have one of your players down it.

An athletic player can get this down pretty quickly once he’s been given the basic fundamentals and theory behind the kick. The past two seasons I have had a 10 and an 11-year old quick kicking with what I think are very satisfactory results.

Conclusion

The Quick Kick, like any other facet of the game of football can be used to a team’s advantage if utilized properly. It can be taught at the youngest levels of competitive play.

Practice time is ALWAYS at a premium and some may argue that it’s not worth the time investment. I disagree. The practice time needed is minimal although it should be practiced on a regular basis like any other skill to keep it polished.

I can guarantee you would probably never use this in a lopsided game but I promise you that it in a close game it could very well be the margin of victory.