A kick return in football is a play that occurs immediately after a kickoff. At the start of each half and after each score, one team will kick the ball and the other will return the kick. On a kick return, the ball can be returned by any player on the receiving team.
Kick returns in football are important because they determine where the receiving team will start their next possession.
If a team is effective at kick returns they will be able to get good field position throughout the game. If all players on the kickoff team are avoided the kick return team may even score a touchdown.
What does a kick return look like?
On a kick return, the kickoff team is going to have their kicker lined up in the middle of the field and five players on either side of him.
The return team will have several of their players ten yards back from the line of scrimmage (where the ball is being kicked from).
There will usually be five or so players in this first line of blockers. Once the ball is kicked these players will retreat backwards towards their own end zone.
Once the ball is caught they will attempt to block a player on the kickoff team that is attempting to tackle the kick returner.
Behind this first line of blockers, two or three more blockers start the play roughly fifteen or twenty yards back from the line of scrimmage.
These players also run back towards their end zone until the ball is caught.
They then stop around their team’s 30-yard line and pick up a player to block.
There is then one more line of blockers that start the play close to the kick returner. There are usually only two players in this line of blockers and they start the play around their own ten-yard line.
These players do not have to run back towards the endzone as they are already quite close to the kick returner.
Once the kick returner catches the ball these two blockers will run out in front of him as lead blockers. They will then lay blocks on any kickoff team members that have made it through the first two lines of blockers.
The blockers want to protect the kick returner and give him time to collect the ball. Some kick returns result in muffs which give the kickoff team a chance to recover.
This can make slowing them down via blockers very important.
If a team decides to squib kick on a kickoff this last line of blockers will often be in a position to catch the ball and return it themselves.
The final player involved in a kick return is the kick returner himself. This player will wait in the endzone as the ball is kicked. The kick returner will then catch the kickoff and determine whether or not he should attempt a return or take a touchback.
If he does attempt a kick return this player is going to try to find a way through the sea of blockers and kickoff team players in order to progress the ball as far upfield as possible.
Understanding the rules of kick returns
Now that you know what a kick return looks like it is time to learn some of the important rules involved in this play.
The touchback is the most important rule in kickoffs because it largely decides the outcome of the kick return.
On a kickoff, if the ball travels through the back of the endzone or is downed in the endzone by the kick returner a touchback will occur.
When a touchback occurs the receiving team will start with the ball at their twenty-five-yard line.
For this reason kick returners must determine whether or not they are going to reach the twenty-five-yard line on this play.
If they believe they are not going to make it to the twenty-five then taking a knee resulting in a touchback is the right decision.
If the kick returner believes they can get past the twenty-five-yard line they should take the ball out of the endzone and start their return.
Kicking out of bounds
On kickoffs, it is illegal to kick the ball out of bounds, even if it bounces. When this happens the kicking team will receive a penalty and the kick return team will get great field position to start the drive.
On some occasions, you may notice that a player will catch a kick return with one foot out of bounds. By rule, this is considered a kick that went out of bounds and is, therefore, a penalty against the kicking team.