Bill Belichick breaks down the art of the kick return
Bill Belichick was very insightful yesterday while discussing the details of the kick return as it relates to the returner's rules and the like.
For context, Belichick was asked if it's common to look at the game film and notice occasions when the returner chose to stay in the end zone when he should have taken it out due to some blocking lanes that were set to open.
"When the kickoff returner is back there catching the ball, I’d say the three things that affect him the most are the depth of the kick, the hang time of the kick and the posture that he’s in when he catches it," Belichick said. "So, no matter how deep you are, if you’re waiting for the ball and going forward and rolling into the catch, it’s a little different than if you’re backing up or going sideways or that type of thing because the momentum at the start of it is a lot different. You hear people refer to a depth in the end zone, but I don’t really think that’s the final story because a ball with no hang time deep in the end zone is a lot more favorable return than a ball that’s not as deep in the end zone with quite a bit of hang time. There’s the combination of that. So, it’s a judgment but all that is going on.
"Really, the returner doesn’t see the blocking pattern develop until he’s on the 10- or 15-yard line usually. Some of those blocks are set early, but a lot of them don’t take place –- you have your front-line blocks, but the rest of those blocks don’t take place until the coverage team is inside the 30 for sure. So by the time he gets the ball and brings it out, those blocks take place. That’s when the lanes do or don’t line up. It would be pretty hard for him to catch the ball and feel like, ‘Oh my God, I missed a big hole there,’ because it’s just too early to see it."
Belichick then broke down the qualities of a good returner.
"Definitely, vision is important," Belichick said. "Speed is important because the faster you can get the ball from the goal line or wherever it comes down up into that 15-, 20-yard line area, then the more you can avoid that outside guy, whoever it is. You can’t really block everybody. Well, you can but once you start double teaming to create running lanes then you run out of blockers and you try to let somebody go -– usually the backside guy, the guy farthest from the ball, that type of thing. So, fast guys can get past them before they’re able to come down and make the play. So, speed and then either some combination of quickness and power to break tackles.
"Somehow or another returners to be good have to be able to make some yards on their own. They have to be able to avoid them or be strong to run through them, as well as have good vision and find the holes.
"Kickoff return is a little different than punt returns because you have so many guys coming down at the same time and you have a chance to generally build some momentum, build some speed and create on the run. Whereas a lot of times on punt returns, they’re right there on top of you, you have to make a quick decision. There’s only two guys down there so usually the gunners, unless the ball has a lot of hang time, but there’s usually that first wave of just two guys or however many of them get down there and then you have that second wave.
"So, the ball handling is quite a bit different, I’d say harder, on punts. Certainly the decision making once you get into plus-50 punting and things like that are a little bit different other than making the come out of the end zone or not come out of the end zone (decision) on kick returns. There aren’t a lot of guys in the league that do both. There certainly are some but there are quite a few guys that do one or the other because the skills really are a little bit different."