What Is A Special Team In Football? Unlocking The Secrets Behind Football’s Special Teams

what is a special team in football

In the high-stakes football arena, where every yard gained is a battle and every point scored is a triumph, there lies a segment often unsung yet crucially impactful— the Special Teams. Enveloping more than just the offensive and defensive plays that typically steal the spotlight, football harbors a nuanced, strategic layer that is epitomized by these teams. The Special Teams, often deployed in situations of kicks and punts, represent a unit that performs in the crucible of pivotal moments, where the outcome of their actions can dramatically sway the game’s tide. They come into play in critical situations like kickoff returns, punts, field goal attempts, and in the tactically thrilling fake plays that can catch an opponent off-guard. Through a cocktail of strategy, skill, and sheer audacity, the special team navigates through high-pressure scenarios, attempting to seize opportunities that may spell the difference between victory and defeat. In this exploration, we shall traverse through the adrenaline-pumping world of football’s special teams, unmasking their roles, dissecting their strategies, and celebrating their unsung contributions to the mesmerizing spectacle that millions ardently follow. Buckle up as we delve into the often-overlooked yet indispensably significant realm of special teams in the heart-pounding sport of football.

What Is A Special Team In Football?

A special team in football operates during kicking plays, including kickoffs, punts, field goal attempts, and extra-point tries. It also springs into action during kick and punt returns. The special team is vital as it executes strategic plays in critical moments, contributing to potential scoring opportunities or advantageous field positioning. This unit encompasses players specialized in kicking, blocking, and making strategic plays during these specialized situations.

How Does Special Teams Work In Football?

Understanding the workings of special teams in football requires a dive into its multifaceted roles and the strategic nuance that underpins its function in the game. Let’s explore this vital aspect of football through the following numbered points:

  1. Strategic Playmaking: Special teams come into play during specific game situations, particularly involving kicks. These moments can be decisive, offering strategic opportunities to gain a favorable field position, score points through field goals, or prevent the opposing team from doing so.
  2. Kickoffs and Returns: The game generally begins with a kickoff by the special team, propelling the ball toward the opposing side. Simultaneously, a kickoff return team strategizes to advance the ball as far forward as possible, navigating through opposing players.
  3. Punting Situations: Punting typically transpires on a fourth down when a team kicks the ball downfield to limit the opposing team’s advantageous field position rather than risking losing possession on their half of the field.
  4. Field Goal Attempts: When teams find themselves within a suitable distance from the opponent’s end zone, the special teams might attempt a field goal to score three points. This involves a kicker aiming to sail the ball between the opposing team’s goalposts.
  5. Point-After-Try (PAT) or Two-Point Conversions: Following a touchdown, the special team might be called upon for an extra point attempt through a kick (PAT) or a two-point conversion, the latter entailing a successful play from the two-yard line.
  6. Specialized Players: Within the special team, players have distinct roles, such as kickers who specialize in field goals, punters skilled at strategically kicking during punting situations, and returners who focus on advancing the ball during kick or punt returns.
  7. Coordinated Blocks and Tackles: The key to successful special team plays is the coordinated effort of blockers, who create paths for returners or protect the kicker/punter, and gunners, who sprint down the field to tackle the opposing returner swiftly.
  8. Fake Plays: Intricacy comes with fake plays, where teams might feign a field goal attempt or punt, instead opting for a surprise play to advance the ball or score, thus catching the opposition off-guard.
  9. Penalties and Rules Adherence: Special teams must be particularly mindful of penalties, ensuring that all plays, like kicks and blocks, adhere strictly to the game’s rules to prevent conceding advantageous positions to opponents.
  10. Game-Changing Moments: Often, special teams can be responsible for turning the tide of a game, with successful plays not only bringing points but also swinging momentum and morale in their team’s favor.

The Indispensable Significance Of Special Teams In Football

Amidst the vibrant spectacle of football, with its triumphant touchdowns and impenetrable defensive stands, a crucial, sometimes understated component pulses steadily at its core: the special teams. The importance of these specialized units resonates far beyond mere plays, navigating through the nuanced chess of strategy, momentum, and opportunity that unfolds within the game’s multi-dimensional battlefield. Special teams, often enveloping kickers, punters, returners, and a cadre of dedicated role players, forge a pathway where yards, points, and psychological leverage are won and lost in moments both stark and subtle.

  • Curating Strategic Depth: Special teams augment the strategic depth of football, interweaving many tactical layers that permeate through kickoff returns, punts, and field goal attempts. The capacity to wield these plays effectively – such as pinning opponents with a deftly executed punt or seizing crucial points via a precisely dispatched field goal – infuses the team with an additional strategic avenue, potentially manifesting opportunities that might otherwise lie dormant.
  • Pivoting Game Momentum: The actions of special teams possess the innate ability to pivot the momentum coursing through a game. A pulsating kickoff return for a touchdown or a crucial blocked punt can surge waves of energy and belief through a team, simultaneously imposing a psychological blow upon the opposition. These plays don’t merely alter scores or field position; they sculpt the emotional and mental landscape unfolding within the contest.
  • Scoring and Saving Points: Perhaps the most conspicuous impact lies in the scoring and saving of points. Field goal units are dispatched in scenarios punctuated by high stakes, with kickers shouldering the responsibility of translating opportunities into tangible points. Conversely, punt units, through strategic kicks and coverage, seek to safeguard points by marooning opposition offenses deep within their territories, thereby elevating the defensive unit’s prospects of stymying scoring drives.
  • Crafting Unpredictability: Special teams also serve as a conduit for unpredictability and inventive strategy. Fake punts, surprise onside kicks, and unconventional return setups introduce an element of tactical surprise, compelling opponents to remain perpetually vigilant against the potential of unforeseen plays, thereby adding a layer of complexity to their preparatory and in-game strategies.
  • Infiltrating Opponent Strategy: The mere presence of adept special teams necessitates that opponents dedicate significant preparatory resources toward countering their potential impact. This infiltration into an opponent’s strategy can subsequently shape and influence their tactical outlook, potentially diverting focus or forcing modifications that might remain unexplored.

Core Responsibilities Of Special Teams

In the enthralling realm of football, special teams emerge as a pivotal component, orchestrating critical plays that notably influence the game’s momentum and outcome. Let’s delve into the multifaceted responsibilities shouldered by these specialized units.

Kickoffs: Launching the Game

The kickoff serves as the curtain-raiser and a crucial restarting point in football. After a score or at the start of halves, special teams propel the ball into the adversary’s territory. The aim is to minimize the return yardage by tactically placing the kick and orchestrating precise defensive coverage. The kickoff unit is astutely crafted to both safeguard against potential breakaway returns and strategically position the opponent.

Punt Teams: Tactical Relinquishing

When an offensive drive stalls, punt teams take the helm, intentionally surrendering the ball to push opponents as far back as possible. The punter seeks to maximize hang time and distance while the coverage unit sprints to encircle the returner, mitigating advancement. Punting isn’t merely a defensive move; it’s an art of manipulating field position, intertwining strategy and execution to constrain the opponent’s forthcoming offensive efforts.

Field Goal Units: Pursuit of Points

Field goal attempts translate offensive drives into potential points. The kicker, bolstered by the long snapper and holder, aims to navigate the ball between the uprights. Beyond the immediate trio, blockers form a shield, thwarting opposing players from disrupting the kick. This unit materializes in moments where the trajectory of the game can be altered by three points, necessitating utmost precision and coordination among its members.

Return Units: Seizing Opportunities

Return units illuminate the stage during kickoffs and punts, seeking to exploit seams in the coverage and maximize yardage. Returners must amalgamate speed, agility, and decision-making, while blockers erect pathways and divert opposing coverages. A proficient return can shift momentum, offering the offense a fortified starting point, or in exhilarating instances, culminate in scoring spectacularly.

Onside Kick Teams: Gambles of Desperation

In moments draped with desperation or strategy, onside kick units strive to reclaim possession post-scoring. It’s a gamble, a concoction of anticipation and surprise, where the kicking team attempts to recover the ball post-traveling the mandatory distance. Succeeding in an onside kick can pivot the narrative of the contest, offering a lifeline in seemingly dire circumstances.

Protection and Block Teams: Safeguarding and Disrupting

While block teams disrupt opponents during returns, protection units shield punters and kickers from block attempts. Their objective is twofold: preserve the sanctity of the kick and create running lanes for returners. In a realm where inches dictate outcomes, a blocked kick or a well-protected return can be monumental.


In conclusion, special teams in football may not always steal the spotlight, but they are undeniably the unsung heroes of the game. From executing precision kicks and punt returns to attempting game-changing field goals, these units play a pivotal role in shaping the outcome of matches. Special teams contribute to field position battles, influence game momentum, and make history with iconic plays. While they come with their fair share of challenges and criticisms, their undeniable impact on the sport cannot be denied. In the heart-pounding world of football, special teams add an element of unpredictability and excitement, proving that in this game, every aspect is a critical piece of the puzzle.


Q: Do Special Teams Players Play Other Positions?

A: Yes, many special teams players in the NFL also play other positions. It’s common for kickers, punters, and long snappers to focus exclusively on their specialized roles. However, other special teams players, such as return specialists, gunners, and blockers, often play additional positions on offense or defense. Versatility can be an asset in the NFL, allowing players to contribute in various roles.

Q: Who Usually Plays Special Teams In The NFL?

A: Special teams units in the NFL typically comprise a mix of players. While some are specialists like kickers, punters, and return specialists, others are positional players from offense or defense. Younger or less experienced players often get their start on special teams as it’s a valuable way to earn playing time and showcase their skills. Special teams require speed, tackling ability, and football IQ, making it an opportunity for many players to contribute.

Q: Who Was The Best Special Team In The NFL?

A: Determining the “best” special teams unit in NFL history can be subjective, often depending on the specific metrics and criteria. However, historically successful teams in special performance include the New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, and Kansas City Chiefs. These teams have consistently demonstrated excellence in areas like kick returns, punting, and field goal accuracy. Additionally, standout individuals like Devin Hester, Adam Vinatieri, and Justin Tucker are often cited as some of the best in their respective special teams roles.

Randall Willis

Randall Willis is a news blogger who likes to write about the latest events happening in the world. He is always up for a good debate, and loves to hear people's opinions on current topics. Randall is an avid reader, and loves to learn new things.

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