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A punter (P) in American or Canadian football is a special teams player who receives the snapped ball directly from the line of scrimmage and then punts (kicks) the football to the opposing team so as to limit any field position advantage. This generally happens on a fourth down in American football and a third down in the Canadian version. Punters may also occasionally take part in fake punts in those same situations, when they throw or run the football instead of punting.
A punter must be skilled in angling the football and/or kicking it as high as possible (called "hangtime") to maximize his teammates’ ability to eliminate a punt returner's forward progress. A "standard" is that for a 42-yard fair-caught or out-of-bounds punt (without added yardage with the ball rolling on the ground), the ideal hang time should be at least a tenth of it in seconds (i.e. 4.20 seconds), but the linear relationship drops off once it hits over 50 yards. However, a hang-time of 5 seconds and over are still considered great punts. Also, the punter will try to make the ball spin in an unusual manner making it harder to catch, which could result in a muff and potentially lead to the punter's team gaining possession.
The most common punting strategy involves receiving the snap from the line of scrimmage, 15 yards (if not shortened to avoid the end line) into an extremely deep shotgun formation, then punting as soon as the snap is received. A less-seen strategy is the "rugby-style" kick, in which the punter moves to the left or right, outside the offensive tackle, and then kicks the ball.
Punters play a major role in winning the field position battle. Punters have increasingly begun to pull double duty as the holder on field goal attempts and also being used on kickoffs in windy conditions. One of the main reasons why punters are starting to take over the holder position is that the backup quarterback is usually busy with the rest of the offense and has little time to devote to holding. Likewise the punter has certain training in throwing, due to the possibility of faking a field goal or attempting a two-point conversion. The long snapper for field goals is usually the punt snapper as well, so the punter already has developed a chemistry with the snapper and is used to catching a long-snapped ball.
Punters are also kickers and understand kicking mechanics better, such as knowing how far back to lean the ball as the kicker makes an attempt, and better at judging when a field goal attempt should be aborted. Punters are usually on their own during team practices, allowing them the time to work with the kicker, so the punter and placekicker tend to develop a close rapport. Many punters also double duty as kickoff specialists as most punters have been at one point field goal kickers as well, and some, such as Craig Hentrich, have filled in as worthy backup field goal kickers. Along with kicking, punters can run or throw the ball as well. This strategy is also known as "the fake punt." Another common term is called "the trick play." Teams will often use this key strategy when it is 4th down with maybe 8 or less yards to the first down marker. The punter has the ability to receive the football and run or pass the ball to another teammate. When scrambling the punter is live to tackle. This strategy is often used in a close game.
Punters seldom receive much attention or fan support, in part because their role is greatest when a team's offense is a failure and cannot get within field goal range; they are thus seen as a necessary evil to salvage the incompetence of the offense. Thus, punters tend to receive the most attention when teams are bad, as they are often one of the few players on the team performing up to par. However, punter can also serve to give defenses pressure to pin the opponents deep within their territory, so giving defenses a short field, or to eliminate the threat of a punt return touchdown by return specialists.
A coffin corner refers to the corner of the playing field just in front of the end zone, usually from the 5-yard line to the goal line. A perfect coffin corner kick is one that goes out of bounds just before either orange pylon located in the front of the end zone. The punter tries to place the ball so that it lands out of bounds or is downed on the field by another member of the kicking team anywhere inside the 5-yard line without touching the goal line, thus forcing a difficult field position for the receiving team on their next scrimmage.
This type of kick can also be attempted in Canadian football. The difference is that if the ball becomes dead in the endzone in Canadian football, a single point is awarded to the kicking team and the conceding team scrimmages from their 35-yard line. In most cases however, the kicking team prefers the advantageous field position, rather than the point.
Certain punters can have exceptionally long careers, compared to other NFL position players (there is a similar tendency with kickers). One reason for this is that their limited time on the field and heavy protection by penalties against defensive players for late hits makes them far less likely to be injured than other positions. Sean Landeta, for instance, played 19 NFL seasons and three USFL seasons for eight different teams. Jeff Feagles played 22 seasons as a punter, on five different teams.
Conversely, placekickers and punters can also have very short careers, mainly because of a lack of opportunity. Because the risk of injury is remote, NFL teams typically only carry one punter on their roster at any given time. Thus, the only opportunity a punter has of breaking into the league is if the incumbent punter leaves the team or is injured. Some NFL teams will carry two punters during the preseason, but the second punter is typically "camp fodder" and almost never makes the opening day roster. Unlike backups at other positions, backup placekickers and punters are not employed by any given team until they are needed; most indoor American football teams, because of smaller rosters and fields along with rules that either ban or discourage punting, do not employ punting specialists.
Jeff Feagles holds the NFL all-time record for career punting yards with 71,211 yards. He played from 1988-2009 for five different teams in the NFL.
Former Oakland Raiders player Ray Guy is the only pure punter to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as well as the only pure punter to be picked in the first round of the NFL Draft. Russell Erxleben was selected as the 11th pick in the first round of the 1979 draft by the New Orleans Saints as a punter but performed other kicking duties as well. Guy is credited with raising the status of punters in the NFL because he proved to be a major ingredient in the Raiders' success during the 1970s by preventing opponents from gaining field position advantage.
Prior to Guy's arrival in Oakland, many teams trained a position player to double as a punter (the placekicker was likewise expected to "double up" at another position), even after the one-platoon system (which effectively required a punter to play offensive and defensive positions on top of their duties) was abolished in the 1940s. The Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II using running back Donny Anderson as their punter. The Packers' regular placekicker, Don Chandler, was an All-Pro punter with the New York Giants but Vince Lombardi brought Chandler in from his old team to serve exclusively as a kicker after Paul Hornung, who set the NFL single-season scoring record with 176 points in 12 games in 1960, was suspended for gambling in 1963 and suffered a sharp decline in accuracy in 1964. Linebacker Paul Maguire served as a punter for the AFL-champion San Diego Chargers and Buffalo Bills in the 1960s.
The Kansas City Chiefs, who played in Super Bowl I and won Super Bowl IV, bucked the trend at the time by signing Jerrel Wilson as a punting specialist in 1966. Wilson punted for the Chiefs for 13 seasons, and combined with placekicker Jan Stenerud to give the team one of the best kicking combinations in the league.
Backup quarterbacks were commonly used to punt well into the 1970s. Steve Spurrier, who was stuck behind John Brodie at quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, served as the team's primary punter for the first four years of his career. Bob Lee took on the same role for the Minnesota Vikings in the late 1960s and early 1970s, punting for the club in Super Bowl IV.
Danny White played little as a backup quarterback to Roger Staubach with the Dallas Cowboys from 1976 through 1979, but was the team's primary punter from 1975 through 1984, when he gave up the kicking duties to Mike Saxon.
One of the last examples of a punting quarterback was Tom Tupa. A quarterback and punter in college, Tupa actually started his career in the NFL as a quarterback but eventually settled into a role as a full-time punter and emergency quarterback.
Lately, NFL teams have been turning to retired Australian rules football players to punt for them, as punting is a basic skill in that game. Darren Bennett, who played for the San Diego Chargers and Minnesota Vikings in his career, was one of the first successful AFL players to make the jump to the United States, doing so in 1994. Ben Graham, who entered the league with the New York Jets, became the first AFL player to play in a Super Bowl when he played in Super Bowl XLIII with the Arizona Cardinals. Graham is now a free agent. Other former AFL players who made the transition to NFL punters include former NFL punter Mat McBriar and Sav Rocca, formerly of the Washington Redskins. In recent years, an increasing number of Australians have been making the transition to gridiron football at earlier ages, with a significant number now playing for U.S. college teams. The four most recent Ray Guy Awards, presented to the top punter in NCAA Division I football, have gone to Australians, three of whom punted for the University of Utah—Tom Hackett in 2014 and 2015 and Mitch Wishnowsky in 2016, and Michael Dickson in 2017, who punted for the University of Texas; all three finalists for the 2016 award were Australians.
Technically, Sam Koch revolutionized punting by developing many variations, due to his flexible hips in an effort to increase net punting average by giving the ball variable trajectories and bounce, making it more difficult for returners to catch and return.
The New England Patriots were noted for almost exclusively employing left-footed punters during the coaching tenure of Bill Belichick, who has claimed the coincidence is unintentional. Left-footed punters have been increasingly used at the NFL level; at the start of the 2001 NFL season, there were 26 right-footed punters, four left-footed ones and one (Chris Hanson) who was dual-footed. By the 2017 NFL season, there were 22 right-footed punters and 10 left-footed ones.
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- Goon, Kyle (December 8, 2016). "Utah football: Mitch Wishnowsky wins Utah's third straight Ray Guy Award". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved February 4, 2017.
- NFL Films (2016-09-26), Boomerangs, Knuckleballs, Hooks: How Sam Koch & the Ravens Changed Punting | NFL Films Presents, retrieved 2016-11-08
- Vrentas, Jenny (January 11, 2018). "Punting Takes a Left Turn". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved January 11, 2018.
|Positions in American football and Canadian football|
|Offense (Skill position)||Defense||Special teams|
|Linemen||Guard, Tackle, Center||Linemen||Tackle, End||Kicking players||Placekicker, Punter, Kickoff specialist|
|Quarterback (Dual-threat, Game manager, System)||Linebacker||Snapping||Long snapper, Holder|
|Backs||Halfback/Tailback (Triple-threat), Fullback, H-back, Wingback||Backs||Cornerback, Safety, Halfback, Nickelback, Dimeback||Returning||Punt returner, Kick returner, Jammer|
|Receivers||Wide receiver (Eligible), Tight end, Slotback, End||Tackling||Gunner, Upback, Utility|
|Formations (List) — Nomenclature — Strategy|