Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Special Teams- Middle Onside

One of the most dangerous weapons I've had as a coach on special teams is the middle onside.  The past few years having been at a school that was the underdog 99% of the time we played, we had to find ways to gain more possessions than our opponent.  The middle onside was our ticket.  In 2008 we recovered an amazing 5 out of 8 attempts on the middle onside, going 2 for 3 in 1 game!  In 2009, we kept our streak alive going an impressive 4 out 8 that year.  This past season our numbers dropped some, but after doing it for two years, people began to catch on to our scheme a bit.  We still finished going 2 of 7 this past season.  When executed properly, the middle onside puts the kickoff return team at a disadvantage.  Most special teams coaches I know, when asked "What is the number one thing that breaks down on your kickoff return team?", the answer you will get more often than not, is "The front wall".  The main reason for this is the distance covered, having to run with your back at the defense, or at the very least having to try and run looking over your shoulder, and lastly, having to stop your momentum, setup and take on targets moving at full speed.  All of these things, even on the best coached of kickoff return teams, will stand out if you have the middle onside as a weapon.  The reason, you slow down the first wall.  They can no longer cheat back, or align off to get a jump in setting up the wall, they have to honor the middle onside!  This post is going to look at how we run the play, and a couple of other variations when teams jump what you are doing.

Middle Onside Rules
First off, we number our guys right and left, and we call the front wall of the kickoff return team by offensive linemen terms (center, guard, tackle, etc.). 

L1/R1- Both of these players are to take out the center.  A big coaching point here is they do not look for the ball at any time, they strictly aim to decleat the center.  This is very important, because the center is the only player the return team can really utilize to destroy the middle onside.  Each player should aim at the near shoulder of the center, and be ready for one heck of a collision (see video below)

L2/R2- These 2 players are to cut off the guards.  They want to key the guards inside shoulder and attempt to cut the guard off from the football.  Again, the key coaching point here is do not look for the football.
L3/R3- These do the exact same thing as L2/R2, however they have to take more sever angles to cut off their defenders.  Again, the key is the inside shoulder of the tackle, and do not look for the football.
L4/R4- These are the "scooper's" who funnel inside in case the ball gets batted around by the return team.  As soon as the L3/R3 player moves these two are heading right down the line and looking to turn up where the L1/R1's were aligned before the kick.  Their job is to get square and be ready to do one of two things.  First, be ready to recover a batted ball, or be ready to tackle a ballcarrier.  We did this because of the heavy focus by the 1's, 2's and 3's on blocking their man.  I saw one of these returned for a touchdown years ago on film, where the kicking team had no safety valves set in place for if the ball was loose and a member of the receiving team picked it up.  We felt the 4's could do two jobs at once, so that is why they utilize the technique listed above.  Yes, it can tip the hand of what you are doing, but as you can see in the video clips, things happen pretty fast, and their trying to go for a pointed ball without getting their heads knocked off!
L5/R5- These are the deep safeties.  We have them bail back to their respective hashes and be ready for a ballcarrier coming out of a pile or whatever else may happen on one of the wildest plays in football!
Kicker- The kicker has, obviously, the most important duty on the kicking team.  He has to kick the ball hard enough to go 10 yards, but soft enough so he can run with it as it slowly rolls to 10 yards.  The kicker does this by "topping" the ball.  Now, I'm no kicking coach, and I'm sure some will argue, topping the ball will make the ball want to jump, or bounce upward.  They key here, for the kicker, is not to drive the ball downward, but to drag his leg through the entire length of the kick.  Our kicker worked on this drill at least twice a week, if not more.  The main key here is to follow through, this is not a punch and drive type kick, but more a drag and follow through.  The other coaching point is keeping the kicker away from the ball once it's kicked.  This has to be done with repetitions so the kicker can get a feel for the speed and direction of the ball.  Great execution by our kicker is shown below:

Variations to Middle Onside
A variation to the middle onside was a kick we simply called "beam".  The reason, the kicker drilled the ball at the center like a laser beam.  Teams started to put very athletic and quick centers in the ball games against us, so we started kicking right at them.  Now we did not have to do this much, and it was mainly to slow the center down from rushing up in anticipation of the middle onside.  We did have some good one's in practice though! 
Some other variations were the standard onside kick where the kicker drives the ball into the ground and gets it to "pop" back up in the air.  Over the past 3 seasons we went 2 for 5 on our pop onsides kicks (however we did not utilize these last season for some reason).

When to use
The middle onside is a very gutsy play, and needs to be used when the team least expects it.  I went back and looked at all our middle onside kicks from the past 3 seasons and this is what I got.  This data is from a total of 23 middle onside kicks in 3 seasons (remember I told you we were underdogs).
  1. The most popular time in a ball game we attempted the middle onside was when kicking off to start the second half.  We felt, especially if behind at the half (which we usually were) this was the time to "steal" an extra possession.  Out of 23 attempts we attempted 11 to start the 2nd half of the game.  We were 4 of 11 on these attempts.
  2. The next most popular time for us to attempt the middle onside was when we were kicking off to start the game.  We did not do it as much here, but had excellent success going 5 for 7!
  3. The rest of the attempt came after long drives that kept the opponents defense on the field for a long time.  We finished going 2 for 5 on these attempts.  Our thinking was here, keep their offense off the field, and their defense on, especially since they had just gotten off the field and were tired. 
I know what you are thinking, very risky play, and you are correct.  The middle onside does several things for you though.  Remember it slows them down, and when you are an underdog, there's a 99% chance your opponent is faster than you, anything you can do to slow them down helps.  If successful, you gain an extra attempt, thereby maximizing your percentage of scoring, and keeping your opponent's offense on the sideline.  It is also a huge victory in terms of the field position battle.  Even if you go 3 and out from midfield, a decent punt could easily put your opponent inside their own 20 yard line. 
Remember, we did it primarily because we were underdogs, if we were going to go down, we were going down fighting.  Roll the dice, remember it's 22 people fighting for a pointed piece of leather...anything can happen!!!!!