A free kick occurs after a team concedes a safety. The team must then complete a free kick to give the other team possession of the ball. Free kicks take place at a team’s twenty-yard line and can be punted drop kicked, or place kicked.
Many fans believe that after a fair catch a team may attempt a free kick. This is not true in the NFL as they refer to this as a fair-catch kick.
Fair catch kicks are essentially field goal attempts in which the defense must line up ten yards behind the line of scrimmage.
That being said many high school football leagues and governing bodies believe that a fair catch kick is a free kick.
Understanding Free Kicks
Free kicks are going to play out in a very similar way to a kickoff. For the most part, free kicks will be punted by the punter.
This sends the ball an adequate distance and allows the free kick players to get downfield due to the hang time.
Generally, the players on the free-kick team will be the same players on the kickoff team. These special teamers will usually be depth players on the roster.
Oftentimes teams will line up in the same formation for kickoffs and free kicks. An equal number of players will be on either side of the kicker or punter.
Once the ball is kicked these players will rush downfield to tackle the kick returner. If the players on the kicking team are able to get to the ball they may be able to recover it as a live ball.
In order for a player on the kickoff team to recover the ball it must have travelled ten yards and hit the ground OR an opponent has already touched it.
If a player on the kickoff team touches the football before it travels ten yards they will be assessed a ten-yard penalty. This will result in the kick return team gaining the ball at the area where the penalty occurred or five yards further ahead than where they were downed.
One of the major differences between free kicks and kickoff is where the ball is kicked from. On kickoffs, the ball is kicked from the thirty-five-yard line.
On a free kick the kicks will take place on the twenty-yard line. This makes the job of the kickoff team harder as the opponents will often catch the ball in much better field position.
Free Kicks Vs Fair Catch Kick
The main difference between a free kick and a fair catch kick is what causes these plays to happen.
A free kick is only taken after a team concedes a safety. While a fair catch kick is only attempted after a team calls for a fair catch.
For a fair-catch kick to occur a team must call for a fair catch when returning a punt. On these plays, teams are able to attempt a kick through the uprights. If the kick is converted a team will gain three points.
The defensive line must line up ten yards back from the line of scrimmage similar to a kickoff. If the kick is missed then the other team will gain possession of the ball. For this reason, fair catch kicks are rarely attempted in the NFL.