Return specialist

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Devin Hester fielding a punt during special teams practice at the Chicago Bears' 2007 training camp. Devin Hester in 2007.jpg
Devin Hester fielding a punt during special teams practice at the Chicago Bears' 2007 training camp.

A return specialist or kick returner is a player on the special teams unit of a gridiron football team who specializes in returning punts and kickoffs. There are few players who are exclusively return specialists; most also play another position such as wide receiver, defensive back, or running back. The special teams counterpart of a return specialist is a kicking specialist.

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According to All-American Venric Mark, "Returning punts is harder. You have to judge the ball more, you have to know when to fair catch and when not to. You can't be a superhero and try to catch everything. With kickoff returns, you catch the ball and — boom — you're going." [1]

Kickoff returner

A kickoff returner (KR) is the player on special teams who is primarily responsible for catching the opposing team's kickoff and attempting to run it towards the end zone to score a touchdown. If the ball is kicked into his own end zone, the kick returner must assess the situation on the field while the ball is in the air and determine if it would be beneficial to his team for a return. If he decides that it is not, he can make a touchback by kneeling down in the end zone after catching the ball, ending the play and starting the next play at the 25-yard line to start the drive.

The kickoff returner position is often played by a small, faster player such as a cornerback, running back or wide receiver. Backup players frequently assume this role so starting players on the offense take fewer hits as the kickoff returner position, and can play their regular positions. In the days of one platoon football, the returner position was synonymous with the "safety man" — a quarterback or halfback.

In 2012, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell proposed the idea of removing the kickoff play, and quoted that the "kickoff return is too dangerous for the game". The idea was met with criticism and the idea was eventually dropped. [2] However, rule changes during his tenure have greatly reduced the frequency of NFL kickoff returns. The most significant one was in 2011, when the NFL changed the starting position of the kickoff from the 30 to the 35-yard line, resulting in far more kickoffs going through the end zone or so deep into the end zone that the returner would usually take a touchback. In 2015, another rule change made the touchback give the receiving team the ball on their 25-yard line instead of the 20.

On October 27, 2013, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson of the Minnesota Vikings returned the kickoff 109 yards and scored a touchdown, the longest run possible in NFL standards. [3]

In 2014, Devin Hester broke Deion Sanders' record for most kickoff return touchdowns, with 14. He currently remains the record holder. [4]

Notable kickoff returners

Punt returner

Chris Sutton of Air Force returning a punt in 2003. Chris Sutton punt return Air Force vs Wyoming 2005.jpg
Chris Sutton of Air Force returning a punt in 2003.

A punt returner (PR) has the job of catching the ball after it is punted and to give his team good field position (or a touchdown if possible) by returning it. Before catching the punted ball, the returner must assess the situation on the field while the ball is still in the air. [8] He must determine if it is actually beneficial for his team to attempt a return. If it appears that the players from the punting team will be too close to the returner by the time he catches the ball, or it appears the ball will go into his own end zone, the punt returner can elect not to return the ball by choosing one of two options:

Punt returners sometimes also return kickoffs and usually play other positions, especially wide receiver, cornerback and running back, although sometimes as backups. An analogous position exists in Canadian football, though differences in rules affect play considerably. See comparison of Canadian and American football for a complete discussion of the punt returner's role in the Canadian game.

See also

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Fair catch

A fair catch is a feature of American football and several other codes of football, in which a player attempting to catch a ball kicked by the opposing team – either on a kickoff or punt – is entitled to catch the ball without interference from any member of the kicking team. A ball caught in this manner becomes dead once caught, i.e., the player catching the ball is not entitled to advance the ball, and the receiving team begins its drive at the spot where the ball was caught. Under NFL and NFHS rules, a team awarded a fair catch is also entitled to attempt a fair catch kick from the spot of the catch; however, this is rarely done. A player wishing to make a fair catch signals his intent by extending one arm above his head and waving it while the kicked ball is in flight.

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Allen Rossum

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Eric Metcalf

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Gunner (American football)

In American football, a gunner, also known as a shooter, flyer, headhunter, or kamikaze, is a player on kickoffs and punts who specializes in running down the sideline very quickly in an attempt to tackle the kick or punt returner. Gunners must have several techniques in order to break away or "shed" blockers, and have good agility in order to change their running direction quickly. Gunners on the punt team also must be able to block or catch.

Brian Mitchell (American football)

Brian Keith Mitchell is a former American football running back and return specialist in the National Football League. He was originally drafted by the Washington Redskins in the fifth round of the 1990 NFL Draft. He played college football at University of Southwestern Louisiana where he was a quarterback. Mitchell is considered one of the greatest return specialists in NFL history.

Devin Hester American football wide receiver and kick returner

Devin Devorris Hester Sr. is an American former professional football player who was a wide receiver and return specialist in the National Football League (NFL). He was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft. He played college football at Miami, where he was the first player in the university's recent history to play in all three phases of American football: offense, defense and special teams. In addition to Chicago, Hester also played for the Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks over his 11-season NFL career.

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The following terms are used in American football, both conventional and indoor. Some of these terms are also in use in Canadian football; for a list of terms unique to that code, see Glossary of Canadian football.

Punt (gridiron football)

In gridiron football, a punt is a kick performed by dropping the ball from the hands and then kicking the ball before it hits the ground. The most common use of this tactic is to punt the ball downfield to the opposing team, usually on the final down, with the hope of giving the receiving team a field position that is more advantageous to the kicking team when possession changes. The result of a typical punt, barring any penalties or extraordinary circumstances, is a first down for the receiving team. A punt is not to be confused with a drop kick, a kick after the ball hits the ground, now rare in both American and Canadian football.

Cordarrelle Patterson American football player

Cordarrelle Patterson, nicknamed "Flash", is an American football wide receiver and return specialist for the Chicago Bears of the National Football League (NFL). He was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He played college football at Tennessee.

References

  1. Greenstein, Teddy (2010-08-24). "Northwestern's Mark attracting notice: Freshman likely to get nod returning kickoffs and will get shot at punts". Chicago Tribune . Retrieved 2012-12-11.
  2. Rosenthal, Greg. "Roger Goodell mulls idea of eliminating NFL kickoffs". NFL.com. Retrieved March 17, 2013.
  3. "Cordarrelle Patterson ties NFL record with 109-yard kickoff return". CBSSports.com.
  4. "Devin Hester passes Deion Sanders for return TD mark". NFL.com.
  5. "Red Grange, Football Hero of 1920s, Dead at 87". The New York Times. 29 January 1991.
  6. "The Best Kick Returners in NFL History". sports-central.org. Retrieved January 12, 2016.
  7. "Top 10 returners in NFL history". 20 December 2007.
  8. "Football Special Teams: How to Return a Punt".
  9. "Football 101: The Rules of NFL Football Fair Catch".
Positions in American football and Canadian football
Offense (Skill position) Defense Special teams
Linemen Guard, Tackle, Center Linemen Tackle, End, Edge rusher Kicking players Placekicker, Punter, Kickoff specialist
Quarterback (Dual-threat, Game manager, System) Linebacker Snapping Long snapper, Holder
Backs Halfback/Tailback (Triple-threat, Change of pace), Fullback, H-back, Wingback Backs Cornerback, Safety, Halfback, Nickelback, Dimeback Returning Punt returner, Kick returner, Jammer, Upman
Receivers Wide receiver (Eligible), Tight end, Slotback, End Tackling Gunner, Upback, Utility
Formations (List)NomenclatureStrategy