By Marty Berson

Marty Berson has spent chunks of the last 30 years coaching special teams at various levels of high school football in Orange County. He has implemented an option kickoff return scheme that relies on reverses and misdirection to spark explosive plays.

Why not inject some fun for your players and excitement for your fans right at the start of the football season?  First games of the season offer teams the opportunity to surprise opponents with plays or schemes that have not been seen previously on any past game tapes.

Just envision what the effects of returning the season’s opening kickoff for a touchdown would do for your team and your fans not to mention the reverse for your opponent.

We have experienced this scenario numerous times. When first introducing the reverse to the other members of our coaching staff, it wasn’t exactly met with overwhelming enthusiasm. However with persistence the staff finally gave their reluctant approval. Only given 15 minutes of practice time to teach and implement the new kickoff return the day prior to the opener, miraculously somehow we got it done.

On game day, prior to the captains’ meeting with the referees, our captain was instructed not to defer if we won the coin toss. We wanted the ball first. We lost the flip but it was immaterial as our opponent deferred. Some of the older coaches were seen rolling their eyes when they heard that we were going to run the reverse. The whistle blew and the ball was kicked deep. Only 17 seconds and 80 yards later, our wing back crossed the goal line untouched. Everyone on our side was going crazy. The opposition side was silent and in a state of shock.

The wedge return or a variation is the predominate choice of most programs. Albeit a fine return, it offers little deception. From our perspective the wedge plays right into the hands of the defense whose strength lies in the center. We prefer to attack the flanks that we deem weaker. Despite that potential advantage, most teams use little imagination or variety in their return game. Their preference is power on power.

We believe it wiser to attack the weakest point of the defense, the flanks. All teams designate one player as the contain man. As such, their job is not to allow the ball carrier to get outside.  Our return has a wedge appearance and can in actuality be a wedge return. However, our design is to run a reverse either left or right where we can deceive and outman the end responsible for containment. We count heavily on the human aspect of the game. Regardless how disciplined a team is, once the contain men believe the return is a middle wedge their tendency inevitably is to flow toward the middle. This plays right into our hands.

We align our personnel as shown in the diagrams. The front five are aligned on the 40-yard-line. That personnel group is comprised of five of our largest, most physical and fastest linemen or linebackers. Arbitrarily on the diagram they are designated as center, guards and tackles. The three players aligned on the 25-yard-line are comprised of a blocking end, quarterback and a wingback. The quarterback should be the best ball-handler and the wingback the fastest back on the squad.  The back aligned on the 20-yard-line should be a fullback or blocking back. The two deep returners are aligned at the 10. Of course, the alignment of the backs can vary dependent upon the opponents kicking abilities. Our first option is always to run the reverse. However, if the kick is squibbed or mishandled, the wedge return is automatic. The reverse can be run toward either sideline. Our preference is toward our sideline.

Executing the Wing Reverse Left

  • The front five must first defend the onside kick. Once the ball is kicked deep they sprint back to approximately the 25-yard line to the position of the QB. The center, guards and the right tackle move to their left while retreating and center the formation in front of the QB. Their job is to form a wedge and protect him.
  • The left tackle swings wide to his left and loops back to the 25-yard-line to attack the first man to react to the reverse. He does absolutely no good blocking anyone who has fallen for the fake wedge.
  • The left end is responsible for kicking out the defender guarding the sideline. Predicated upon scouting reports or film, most teams know in advance who has sideline responsibility. The defense may X or loop the third man outside or leave the outside man with contain.
  • After the kickoff, the QB turns his back on the defense and faces the deep returners. The front five conceal the QB from the defense. His job is to receive the handoff from the deep back and hand the ball to the Wing positioned to his left. The end behind the QB is responsible for sealing off the inside. He picks up anyone who reacts from the wedge or a safety coming up-unlike the loft tackle who picks up anyone who filters through. He goes immediately to help seal off the inside.
  • The returner who does not receive the kickoff becomes the lead blocker for the wing. Both receivers head toward the QB. If the kickoff is to the left returner the back on the right allows the possession returner to go first and then fall in behind and heads to the QB’s left where he becomes the wing’s lead blocker. The opposite applies if the reverse is to the right.
  • The possession returner runs toward the QB on a path that takes him slightly to the QB’s right, so a smooth handoff can occur. The wing takes a drop step and waits until the returner is half way to toward the QB. As the deep back approaches, the QB the wing should be converging on a lateral path toward the QB at full speed. His arrival must be precisely after the QB has received the handoff from the returner.
  • When the returner is 5 yards from the QB he yells, “GO, GO”, signaling the linemen to move forward. The return images a wedge return. He then hands the ball off to the QB. The exchange between the returner and the QB cannot be a forward handoff. To ensure the legality the returner hands the ball after he has passed the QB by extending his right arm backwards and places the ball in the stomach of the QB. He then continues to carry out his fake wedge return. This technique legalizes the return.
  • As soon as the QB receives the handoff he then hands the ball to the wing. Being in a precarious position with his back to the defense he has been coached that immediately after handing the ball to the wing, to sprint in the opposition direction of the wing.

COACHING POINTS

  • Have the backs practice on the precision and the timing of the handoffs without presence of the linemen.
  • The lineman initially engages the defense. After first contact let them sift through. Proceed downfield as a convoy, sealing off the outside running lane. After initial contact only, block defenders who have reacted to the reverse.
  • ALWAYS ALERT THE REFEREES ABOUT THE REVERSE AND THE LEGALITY OF THE BACKWARDS HANDOFF. It would be a shame to have a touchdown called back because of an inadvertent whistle by a referee deceived by the fakes.
  • Never defer, always receive. Don’t wait for the second half, it may be too late. That initial score can mean the difference between winning and losing.

The Positives of Implementing This Scheme

  • Anytime you force your opponents to spend extra time in preparation, that is a plus.
  • If they are always looking for the reverse, the wedge might pop wide open.
  • Teams may never kick deep, rather squibbing the ball to you in fear of the reverse, giving you excellent starting field position.
  • Despite the opposition looking for the reverse with great deception and disguise of the wedge, it may still produce a great gain if not a score.

About the author

Dan Guttenplan