When they are in the act of kicking, punters and kickers are among the most vulnerable players on a football field. Not only do they wear very minimal padding, but the act of kicking a ball leaves them very open to being hit. Running into a kicker is a penalty that occurs when a defensive player hits the kicking leg of the punter or kicker. This penalty is slightly different than roughing the kicker, though the two are a similar idea. In general, hitting the kicker or punter in any way, while they are in the act of kicking the ball, will likely result in a penalty. This is a very rare penalty, in 2019 it was only called 5 times total, twice against the Chicago Bears, and once against the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Giants, and Seattle Seahawks.
Running into the kicker occurs when a defensive player either makes contact with a punter or kicker's kicking leg or when they prevent the punter or kicker from landing onto the ground safely. Running into the kicker can be called if a defensive player slides under the punter or kicker, preventing them from landing on the ground. This can often be very controversial because it is hard to stop your momentum once you are running towards a kicker or punter in an attempt to block the kick.
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The result of a running into the kicker penalty is a five yard loss for the team that has committed the penalty. This does not mean an automatic first down, except if the offensive team is within five yards of a first down. This penalty is different, and importantly so, from roughing the kicker. This is because roughing the kicker is a fifteen yard penalty with an automatic first down. This comes very importantly into play when you consider that in a split second the referees have to decide which penalty to call. In an important moment, especially in the fourth quarter, this can change the outcome of a game, giving a punting or kicking team another chance to score a touchdown.
The signal for running into the kicker is represented by an official standing on one leg and kicking their leg out. This is a very simple signal, which is appropriate for a very simple penalty. Since it is so rarely called, you will almost never see an official make this signal. This penalty is not listed as one of the more basic penalties than an official will have to know. The penalty cannot be found in the 2020 officials handbook as a penalty signal.