Let this be said for Virginia football coach Al Groh: He’s probably going to say something insightful about the sport itself if given 50 minutes to talk.
One of the subtle highlights of yesterday’s trip to Charlottesville was hearing Groh take on the role of pigskin professor and offer a Columbus Day lecture on the history of punt team formations.
There’s really no good use for this giant block of text, which is a shame because it was actually quite interesting to listen to.
Fortunately, Virginia gets a company to provide transcripts of Groh’s weekly press conference, which means getting this answer (which takes up a full column on the print out) into the blog was not as time-consuming as it could have been.
Anyway, what prompted this discussion was the idea of the shield punt formation – where a team moves three guys close to the punter to protect, leaving five linemen and two gunners to work with.
Here was Groh’s take on the entire evolution of the formation of punt teams:
Just the overall shield punt and the elements that go with it. So we were having to get ready for it or the team that we were preparing for had just played against it, and one of the things that ‑‑ of the two things that were noticeable about it with teams all over is that there were very few punts getting blocked and very few punts getting returned. One of the things it does ‑‑ the spread punt ‑‑ the history of the spread punt, it came about when the NFL changed the rules.
And when the rule change said that you could only release two players down field before the snap of the ball. So once that rule change came, the NFL said, well, if we can only release two players before the kick of the ball we better put them out there wide where they have a lot of room to release, thus was born the modern spread punt, it wasn’t because coaches said this was the very best way to do this, it was because the rules dictated that was the only way to it.
Also by rule now ‑‑ it’s not the same rule in college football but it’s the same protection but de facto is makes it happen. And that requires that the blockers on the line of scrimmage have to retreat in order to make the different pick‑ups, if you’re retreating you’re not getting off on the snap of the ball. So what this formation does is because of the shield behind and the different set of rules it allows all the blockers, whether they have an assignment or they’re uncovered to come aggressively off the ball and therefore there is quicker vertical coverage down the field on kicks.
So that is certainly an advantage, and it’s an advantage to be moving forward rather than be moving backwards. And with that as has happened with lots of different things, whether it’s an offense or defense, one an idea starts and coaches take it and are creative with it, then grows the variety of different formations that we’re now seeing.
You all probably saw the most extreme from Indiana the other day in which they had a few players around center and quite a few spread out wide with the idea being if the defense doesn’t accommodate those players there is the threat that somebody is going to catch the ball and throw it to one of them so you have to cover them as if they are wide receivers, which, in fact, they are, and that takes players away from rushing the punter, at the same time it has more players spread out and by the style of punt now are able to take off on the snap of the ball so you get more coverage from them.
So probably if you ask the question of most people who were employing that, everybody’s answer would be similar to that.
Not that anyone will ever have to ask.