For certain game events such as kick-offs, free kicks, punts and field goal attempts, American football teams will bring on players to fulfill designated tasks that are not part of the general defensive or offensive game. These special teams players usually double as second and third string players from other positions who have trained especially for particular scenarios. Once the play is finished, special teams players will usually leave the field or revert to a different position. Although fewer points can be scored on special teams than offensive plays, they can have a big impact on how far up the field the offense will start its drive. There are several different types of special teams players, as follows:
The player responsible for kicking the ball during kick-offs and field goals. Because kicking is a skill in which few are proficient, most professional teams have a specialist player who only kicks, so as to avoid injuries. In most non-professional teams, the PK will usually play as punter and probably in a backup position.
Kick returner (KR)
The player who must catch an opposition’s kick-off and attempt to kick them back behind the opposition so that his team can attain a field position advantage. If the ball is kicked into the returner’s own end zone, he must assess whether the team will benefit from a returned kick or give the ball to his own team at their 20 yard line so they can start the drive forward.
Each time an offense is stopped, they will punt the ball to the other team. The punter receives the ball from the snap and kicks it to the opposing team to make sure they lose any field position advantage. Punters have to be able to kick the football as high as possible to give their team mates and gunners enough time to get to the opposition’s punt returner and block his returned punt.
Punt returner (PR)
Much like the KR, the punt returner must catch the ball after it has been punted and return it to give his offense a good starting field position, or even a touchdown if possible. If the PR thinks that the opposition gunners will be too close by the time he catches the ball or the punt reaches his own end zone, he can choose to call a “fair catch” so the game stops and his team will start from where the ball is caught.
Alternatively, the PR can let the ball hit the ground and bounce out of touch or come to rest. While this is the safest option because there is no chance of a fumble, it can allow the punting team to pin the returner’s team deep in their own half if they can get to the ball first.
Long snapper (LS)
A specialised centre who comes onto the field during punts, field goals and extra point attempts. The long snapper receives the ball from the scrimmage and must snap it as quickly as possible 20 feet back to the holder, ready for the PK to kick. During punt plays, the LS will snap the ball to the punter instead. After the ball has been punted, the LS must carry on the duties of a centre and run down the field to tackle.
The person who receives the snap during field goal and extra point attempts. Positioned behind the scrimmage, he holds the ball for the PK to kick. The correct way to hold the ball is with the laces pointing towards the goal posts, steadying it with one finger at the top until it is kicked.
On kick-offs and punts, gunners are specialised players who line up like wide receivers and must sprint down the field in an attempt to tackle or block the returner. Gunners are the only players on the kicking team that are allowed to start running as soon as the ball is snapped.