Punt (football): Wikis


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A punt in some codes of football, especially American football, rugby league and rugby union, is performed when the ball is kicked without letting it hit the ground first—in contrast to a drop kick. In Rugby football codes, the ball may be punted in open play by any player in order to gain field position, or a short-high punt known as an up and under kick in an attempt to disrupt the defensive line. In American football and Canadian football, the football is kicked downfield to the opposing team.


American and Canadian football

St. Louis Post-Dispatch photograph (1904-05), of Bradbury Robinson, football's first triple threat man, preparing to punt

If an offensive team has the ball too far away from the end zone to attempt a field goal, is facing their final down (fourth down in American football or third down in Canadian football) and given the current game situation is too far away from the first down marker to warrant the risk of losing possession at or near the current line of scrimmage, they may choose to punt the ball in an attempt to maximize the change in field position prior to the change of possession.

This involves kicking the ball from a standing position after it has been snapped (usually a long snap). The purpose is to increase the distance that the opposing team must advance the ball in order to score a touchdown or a field goal.

In the formation just before the snap, the punter usually lines up 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage (this can include lining up in the end zone). An American football punter must shorten this distance if needed to avoid being on or behind the end line. Since Canadian football's endzone is twice as long (20 yards) a Canadian football punter can always take the snap from the usual distance, however Canadian football teams will often elect to concede a safety as opposed to kicking the ball from inside or very close to their own end zone.

When the offense is within the 35 yard line, and the head coach opts to call a punt rather than attempt a field goal, it is referred to as a pooch kick, since the punter must kick a short, high punt out of bounds to try to avoid a touchback.

A badly punted ball that travels only a short distance is referred to as a shank.


American and Canadian rules

In American football, the ball changes possession to the other team once the receiving team touches the ball. In Canadian football, possession does not change until the receiving team establishes possession; in that game, the punter or teammates behind him can recover their own punt (onside kick).

In American football, no player from the kicking team is allowed to be the first player to touch the ball after it has been punted past the line of scrimmage. If this occurs, it is a form of illegal touching called "first touching"; the play is immediately dead, and the receiving team receives the ball at the spot of the illegal touch (though this is subject to isolated exceptions).[1] It should be noted that this is often not considered to be detrimental to the team committing the "illegal touching"—in fact, it is actually a fairly common occurrence in American football, sometimes spectacularly so when a player on the kicking team wishes to make contact with the ball before it enters the endzone and is thus ruled as a touchback. Since there is no further yardage penalty awarded, commentators will simply say that the team committing the "illegal touching" has "downed the ball."

Once a player from the receiving team has touched the ball, it is considered in play unless the receiver has signaled (by extending one arm above his head and waving it side to side) for a fair catch, in which case the play is dead once the catch is made. The result of a typical punt, barring any penalties or extraordinary circumstances is a first down for the receiving team at the spot where:

  1. there is illegal touching
  2. a fair catch is made
  3. the receiver or subsequent receiving team ball carrier is downed or goes out of bounds
  4. the ball crosses out of bounds (in the air or after touching the ground)
  5. a ball which is allowed to land comes to rest in-bounds without being touched
The Baylor Bears punting against the Texas A&M Aggies in 2007

If the resulting spot is in the end zone, the play is a touchback, and the ball is spotted at the receiving team's 20 yard line. An exception in American football is that if a ball is allowed to land, and enters the end zone at any point, even if it does not rest there, the play is a touchback. However, if the same happens in Canada, the ball remains in play until it is downed by a player on either team or is run out of the end zone. If a member of the receiving team downs it in the end zone, a single is awarded to the kicking team. If the punter or any other member of the kicking team level or behind the punter at the time of the kick downs it in the end zone, the kicking team scores a touchdown. If an offside player touches it first, standard no yards penalties are enforced from 10 yard line of the receiving team.

The length of the punt is measured from the line of scrimmage to the spot of the catch if it is a fair catch. If the receiving team does not touch it it is measured to the spot it stops or where the kicking team touches it. If the punt is returned it is measure to the end of the return.

There is no fair catch in Canadian rules, but offside players of the kicking team (those in front of the punter when the ball is kicked) must not be first to touch the ball and must be at least five yards from the ball when it is first touched by the receiving team. Violation of this rule is a 5-(if the ball first bounces) or 15-yard (if the ball is illegally touched or caught without bouncing) penalty for "no yards".

In Canadian football, a play in which a kicked ball enters the end zone and is not returned by the receiving team earns the kicking team one point, called a single or rouge. The receiving team then takes possession at its own 35-yard line.

Canadian rules also allow a punt when the punter is not behind the line of scrimmage, which is not permitted in American rules. This tactic (termed an "open-field kick" in the rule book) is usually reserved for last-second desperation: for example, a player, after receiving a forward pass with no time left on the clock and with no hope of evading tacklers, may punt the ball in the hope that it will score a single or be recovered by an onside teammate. After recovering a ball kicked by the other team a player can also punt out of his own end zone in order to avoid a single. On one occasion in the CFL, a last-second missed field goal attempt was followed by three punts, all on one play, as the teams alternately tried to avoid a single and score a single.

In both codes, if the receiving team drops the ball or touches the ball but does not catch it then it is considered a "muff" and may be recovered by either team. The defensive team may also attempt to block the punt, by rushing the punter instead of or in addition to trying to return the punt. If the receiving team succeeds in blocking the punt and the ball is touched in or behind the neutral zone, it is a free ball, and either team can advance it (although if the punt were being attempted on the fourth down in American football, the kicking team must advance the ball at least as far as the line to gain upon recovering it or the ball will go "over on downs" to the receiving team). In the Canadian game, intentionally kicking the ball is considered breaking the continuity of downs. The team to recover the ball, in this instance, would have a first down at the point where forward progress was halted, regardless of the first down line. If the kicked ball, despite being touched by the receiving team, nonetheless crosses the line of scrimmage on its own impetus, it is considered to have been "partially blocked" and the same rules apply as if it had not been blocked. A kicked ball that is blocked or not blocked, and fails to cross the neutral zone is a live ball. It is as if the punt never happened. Either team may recover the ball and advance it. The offensive team may recover the ball and throw a forward pass or punt once again. If the rushing team fails to touch the ball but contacts the punter, this is a foul whose penalty can be either five yards or fifteen yards and an automatic first down for the punting team depending upon the severity of the contact. If the rushing team succeeds in touching the kicked ball in or behind the neutral zone, this foul is not enforceable.

In Canadian football, the punt receiver may punt the ball back to the kicking team—who may punt the ball back, and so on. This sequence of events almost never occurs, and when it does, the purpose is to avoid (or score) a game-winning or -tying single on the final play of regulation time (or, possibly, of the half).

Fake punts

On very rare occasions, a punting team will elect to attempt a "fake punt" — line up in punt formation and begin the process as normal, but instead do one of the following:

  • The punter may choose to run with the ball.
  • The ball may be snapped to the upback, who then runs with the ball.
  • The punter (or another back, who is standing nearby) may decide to pass to a pre-designated receiver.

Although teams sometimes use fake punts to exploit a weakness in the opposing team's defense, a fake punt is very rare, and often used in desperate situations, such as to keep a drive alive when a team is behind and needs to catch up quickly. The high risk and low success rate[citation needed] of "fake punts", combined with the need to maintain an element of surprise when the play is actually called, explains why this play is seldom seen.

One of the most famous fake punts was by New York Giants linebacker Gary Reasons during the 1990 NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers, in which he rushed for 30 yards on a fourth down conversion via a direct snap to him instead of the punter, Sean Landeta, which was a critical difference in a 15-13 victory. The Giants went on to win Super Bowl XXV.

Record punts

The longest punt in NFL play was a 98-yarder by Steve O'Neal of the New York Jets in an American Football League game played against the Denver Broncos on September 21, 1969.[2]

The longest punt in North American pro football history is a 108-yarder by Zenon Andrusyshyn of the CFL's Toronto Argonauts (at Edmonton, Oct. 23, 1977). [3] The CFL's field is ten yards longer than the NFL's.

The record for college football is held by the University of Nevada’s Pat Brady, who booted the longest possible punt on a 100-yard field at 99 yards against Loyola University on October 28, 1950.[4]

Rugby union

A punt in Rugby union can be contrasted with a drop kick which is taken at a 22-meter dropout, kickoff, or drop-goal attempt. The main purpose of the punt is usually a bid to gain field position, where the ball is kicked by any player (but usually by back-line players such as scrum-half, fly-half or fullback) up the field and out of bounds (in touch), forcing a lineout contest. The lineout is usually taken in the same position where the ball went out of play, however, the ball must make contact with the ground before leaving the field or the lineout is taken from the position of the ball when it was kicked instead, unless the kicker was inside his own 22-meter line, or the kick was taken from a penalty where the ball is allowed to leave play without bouncing. The other main type of punt is known as the up and under kick and launches the ball high into the air, but without traveling far along the field of play. The purpose of this kind of kick is to disrupt the defensive line (who will scramble in attempt to retrieve the ball) while attempting to retrieve the ball for one's own team. However, the up and under is used sparingly because of the risk of losing possession without gaining field position.

In Rugby union, a team can elect one of four ways to take a penalty, being to run with the ball, take a scrum, kick at goal, or punt the ball. Where the team chooses to punt the ball, the punter may kick the ball out of bounds without making contact with the ground first, and the throw at the lineout is awarded to the non-infringing team.


A punt return is one of the punt receiving team's options to respond to a punt. A player (usually a second or third string wide receiver or running back) positioned many yards from the line of scrimmage will attempt to catch or pick up the ball after it is punted by the opposing team's punter. They will then attempt to carry the ball as far as possible back in the direction of the line of scrimmage, without being tackled or running out of bounds. Players may also attempt to lateral the ball to other players on their team, in order to keep the play alive if they expect to be tackled or go out of bounds.

See also


  1. ^ NFL Official Playing Rules 2006: Rule 9-1-4, and A.R. 9.4
  2. ^ Pro Football Hall of Fame
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ National Football Foundation


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