Breaking down Hester and the return game

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Instead of breaking down coverages or route concepts, let’s focus today on the kicking game and get into some coaching points on special teams. I want to look at two returns from Devin Hester that went for touchdowns, examine the coverage discipline and discuss the ability of the Bears return man.

When you see a big play on special teams, always look at the coverage. Where is the break down in technique? Tackling? Lane discipline? What type of kick do we see? And how does the returner set up the defense and get vertically up the field? They all come into play. Let’s check out the replays.

Return No.1: Hester vs. Green Bay

The gunners: Where are they? Both gunners (aligned outside like WRs) have to get down the field and force Hester to hesitate or cut into the pursuit. However, they don’t even come into play here. I have covered plenty of punts from this position, and I can tell you it is no joke out there vs. a double team—but you still have to get involved. Tough to bring down the returner with two of your top cover guys out of the picture.

Lane discipline: It’s not that bad here. Green Bay could have better balance down the field, but even without the gunners, they are in a position to make a play. Spread the field, keep contain with the wings and prevent Hester from getting up the field. In simple terms: create a wall. Especially when you have a good kick with hang time—like we see here.

Breakdown at point of attack: A drill on the first day of camp. Drive on the returner, chop you feet and make a head across tackle. We can see the Packers breaking down, but the issue here is that it happens too early. Don’t give space to any ball carrier in this league. Instead, eliminate that space between you and the ball carrier, drive your feet on contact and bring him down.

Hester sets them up: Great coaching point for young returners. No different than a RB on a toss sweep or the outside zone. Hester brings the ball parallel to the coverage to widen the field. Just like we talked about lane discipline, Hester can break that down by forcing the Packers to change direction and move with his initial burst to the sideline. And that is exactly when you pick a hole and go. The great returners will set up the defense, get vertical and explode into the open field.

Return No.2: Hester vs. Minnesota

The gunners (again): Solid, outside release at the bottom of the screen, but where is the finish? Use your hands, get physcial and come back to the ball. The last thing you want to do is get forced to the sideline and taken out of the play. And that is what we are looking at in this situation.

Missed tackles: Two players to check out: the left guard and PP (personal protector). Both players have a shot to make a tackle. The guard wins at the line of scrimmage, but he never breaks down and runs past Hester at the point of attack. Now shift to the PP—because he is unblocked (common in the NFL). Once you secure that there is no threat to the punter, get down the field and make a play. Instead, he hesitates and doesn’t “shoot” on the returner. These are two missed opportunities for the Vikings that could have negated a touchdown.

Blocking scheme: Interesting (and a game plan design), but check out the left tackle (next to the wing) for the Vikings. Teams will often double a player that is making plays on special teams every Sunday, and this is very similar. Use a cross action up front and try to “trap” a certain player right as they release from the line of scrimmage. Take them out of the play.

Poor kick: I like the placement here as the ball is kicked outside of the numbers (use the sideline as part of your coverage team). However, go back and check out the entire coverage unit—because Hester doesn’t even have to set them up. It is a low kick that has little hang time. Chicago’s returner can get vertical off of the catch and run right up the numbers. Time to strike up the band for the record setting return.

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