Football Special Teams
Special teams (ST) are a unique group of players used during certain parts of a football game. Special teams are usually called onto the field when a team performs any kick or return in football. Typically, when one team's special teams unit is called onto the field, the other team will bring their special teams unit onto the field as well.
Special Teams Positions
A football special teams unit has the following unique positions:
- Kickers (i.e. field goal kicker, placekicker, drop kicker)
- Punt Protectors
- Returners (i.e. punt returner, kickoff returner)
- Snapper (i.e. long snapper)
Kickers are also called placekickers. These are the players responsible for kickoffs, field goals, and extra points. They kick the football off the ground in order to earn more points for their team. Although this player might not be involved in much of the game, he can make or break the result of a game.
Holders are the players that receive the ball and hold it on the ground for kickers to kick. If they fumble with the ball, it could result in a missed field goal or the kicker missing the ball altogether.
Punters are responsible for dropping the ball and kicking it very far to the other end of the field. This happens when the offensive team wishes to switch possession and give it to the other team instead of trying to gain yardage on fourth down. The punter has an extra blocker behind the line of scrimmage with them, known as a punt protector (PP). This player is the last line of defense between the punter and the incoming gunners.
Returners are the players who catch the ball after a punt or kickoff. After catching the ball, they can either attempt to run down the field to put their team in a better position, or signal for a fair catch. A fair catch means the kicking team cannot tackle the returner, and the receiving team’s offense starts at the location where the ball was caught.
A gunner is someone who “guns” down the field to try to tackle the opposing returner. They are usually positioned on the sidelines and are especially fast runners. Their main opposition on special teams are the jammers (J). Jammers are tasked with blocking the gunners at the line of scrimmage in order to prevent them from getting a good jump on the punt returner.
Blockers are a critical part of the special teams unit, as well as the offense. Blockers on the receiving team help protect the returner from the opposing special teams unit, who attempt to tackle the returner after they catch the ball. Blockers on the kicking team prevent opposing players from reaching the kicker or punter to disrupt the kick. Jammers function as blockers against the gunners on the outside of the field.
The snapper, or long snapper, is the player who “snaps” the ball to the holder during extra points or field goal kicks. He must have extreme accuracy and precision, as kickers and punters stand farther away from the offensive lines than a quarterback would.
Football Special Teams Goals
The goals of the special teams are:
- To maintain a good field position
- To pin the opposing team in a less-favorable field position
- To score points
- To perform returns
- To prevent scoring on opposing kicks
Without good special teams players, a football team will struggle to earn points through kicking opportunities like field goals and extra points, or to prevent turnovers with punts.
Special Teams Plays
Players on the special teams will perform:
- Field goals
- Extra point kicks
- Kickoff returns and punt returns
- Blocking field goal and extra point attempts
Field position describes the location of the ball on the field relative to the end zones. The special teams unit maintains good field position by always keeping the ball away from a team's own red zone.
Special Teams Terms
Here are some glossary terms related to special teams:
- Place Kicker
- Drop Kick
- Extra Point
- Field Goal Kicker
- Kickoff Returner
- Punt Returner
- Long Snapper
Is the special teams in football on offense or defense?
Special teams players are neither offensive or defensive players when they are on special teams. Though some may be offensive or defensive players at other positions, when they are playing special teams, they are considered special teams players. While most players on a football team are eligible to become special teams players, the starting quarterback is typically off-limits as a special teams player.
How many players are on the special team?
There are 11 players on the field at a time for special teams, as is the case with both the offense and defense at all times.
Are special teams important in football?
A team’s special team unit is only on the field for about 20% of the game, but despite that, they are very important to a team’s success. Special teams players can help score points, put their offense in a better position to score, and put the opposing offense in a less favorable position to score. Kickers are an essential member of the special teams unit, as they score points via field goals that can make or break a game for their team.
Can special teams players score?
Yes, special teams players can score in a number of ways. They can return a kick or a punt for a touchdown, make a field goal, or score the extra point, among other ways.