The hands team in football refers to the group of players that are responsible for catching and returning onside kicks. Onside kicks typically travel to a specific portion of the field. The hands team will line up in this area and ensure that the ball is caught and secured when it comes their way.
The hands team are players that can be trusted to catch a live ball. All the players on the hands team will be those that are the most consistent catching the ball.
On an onside kick the kicker is going to kick the ball hard off of the ground in order to make it bounce. Once the kick goes ten yards then the kicking team will be able to retrieve it.
For this reason, the hands team will stand roughly ten yards back from the kickoff location
In front of these players will be several blockers. These players will block incoming players from the kicking team.
This will give the hands team more time to secure the ball.
Due to the ten yards of distance that is required by rule, the kicking team is usually going to be the second team to touch the ball.
This is why the hands team is so important. Once one of these players catches the ball he will almost always go to the ground.
This ensures that the return team is going to maintain possession of the ball.
When onside kicks are successful it is usually because one of the players at this position failed to secure the ball when it came their way.
A drop in this role is much more drastic than dropping a pass. This is because dropping an onside kick is often going to give the opposing team possession of the ball if they are able to secure it.
What positions are usually on the hands team?
Wide receiver is the most common position to be placed on the hands team.
Wide receivers are used often because these players excel at catching passes and also tend to be taller.
Their height and reach gives them a bigger catching radius. While the ability to catch the ball consistently will give them a better chance at securing the ball.
Safety is another position that is used in this role. Safeties in football are often considered ball hawks.
These players lineup deep into the defensive backfield and are responsible for stopping big passes from being completed.
Some of these players such as Micah Hyde on the Buffalo Bills have such good ball skills that they are used on the hands team.
Another position that may find themselves returning onside kicks is tight ends.
These players are as quick and agile as wide receivers though they are very dependable when it comes to catching balls.
If a football team has a trusted tight end they can always count on to make the catch. There is a good chance he is going to end up on the hands team.
Additionally, most tight ends are very capable blockers. If the kick goes to a player behind or beside them a tight may be able to block the opponents to getting to him.
This paired with the tight end ability to consistently catch balls means this position can be quite useful on the hands team.