Upon Further Reviewy Hokepointsy Thing: Kick Return: First Four Games Comment Count

Seth September 26th, 2013 at 10:35 AM


Unlike other UFRs you may have read, this one comes with about 20x the NORFLEET! Michigan kickoffs were on Tuesday. Here's kick returns.

Michigan's deep set is usually Gedeon, Houma and Rawls then Dileo as a lead blocker (sets up opposite side of the field in case it goes there), and Norfleet returning. Houma and Rawls double the first guy to arrive while Gedeon's job is to wall off the second arrival so there's a hole between them. Up high it's like everybody else: four guys start just past the 50, two on the 40. Their job is to run downfield, then find somebody to hit and sustain that block. I'm sure Space Coyote is going to have a name for this but here's what it looks like:


After his injury Drake Johnson was replaced by Ross (vs ND) or Furman (elsewise). They change it up a lot up front. When Funchess was hurt Jackson folded back there. Hayes and Chesson rotated in at times.

Ball arrives after the...


Central Michigan
Play Qtr Time Score From To Player Rtn Rlt
Center 1 10 min 7-3 35-L 2 Norfleet 21 M23
Kickoff to the left hash on the 1 with coverage at the 30--that is a good kick. Blocking perfectly seals the gunners on the left side but Norfleet(-2) doesn't follow them, instead cutting toward the sideline. There's an unblocked guy Norfleet has to go around, and that puts him on the wrong side of Jackson's block to end this short of the 25. Missed opportunity.
Corner left 2 8 min 21-6 35-L 4 Norfleet 20 M24
Norfleet catches it 2 yards into the end zone with coverage at the 30, which means he'll meet them at the 10-15 yard line. He decides to bring it anyway because Norfleet Biatch! Thomas(-2) has let his made run by him, and Norfleet(+1) has to juke that. Houma(-2) and Rawls got crossed up on their block—I dinged Houma because I don't know why you'd ever cross in front of a teammate. That guy squeezes shut the small hole Norfleet was hitting and prevents a big return.
Corner left 3 15 min 35-6 35-L 3 Norfleet 22 M25
Good high kick Norfleet accepts on the 4 with coverage already past the 30. Houma and Rawls get their guy to the ground to open up room outside him but this picks off Dileo so no more lead blocker. Delano Hill(+2) has shoved his man way outside and there's a lane. Funchess(-1) let his man past and that guy plugs the end of the tunnel--if that block is made it's Norfleet versus the kicker.
Center 4 12 min 56-9 35-L 8 Norfleet 39 M47
Starters out because 59-9 so Clark in for Funchess and Lewis in for Dileo. Short kick arrives on the 8 with coverage at the 35. First man arrives before Houma(-1) can get there so Rawls gets blown up. This cuts off any escape to the left where all the blocking's set up and funnels into a hole where D.Hill(-0.5)'s man is filling and an unblocked guy's waiting on the 25. Except C.Gordon(+2) stonewalled and pancaked a dude. Norfleet(+3) jets into the tiny crease so Hill's guy can only get a delaying hand, then uses every inch of Gordon's block to dance around the unblocked guy and spring himself. Trailing CMU receiver does an excellent job to cut him off and bring him down at the 47.
Game Notes: Houma and Rawls aren't getting much from their lead blocks.
Notre Dame (caution: videos are way louder here)
Play Qtr Time Score From To Player Rtn Rlt
Corner right 1 2 min 10-7 35-R -8 Norfleet n/a Tchbk
ND's kicker is right-footed FWIW. Norfleet catches it over his shoulder and thinks about bringing this out until Dileo says no.
Deep right 2 14 min 10-10 35-R Out n/a n/a Tchbk
Talking about Zingermans.
Corner right 2 6 min 17-13 35-R 5 Norfleet 32 M37
Coverage is at the 30 when Norfleet catches 5 yards from the sideline so ND has a win already. Thomas(-0.5) and Gedeon both lose their guys--Gedeon gets his back by popping Dymonte's dude. Houma/Rawls (+0.5 apiece) got the seal that Norfleet(+1) sees and takes. Funchess(-1) has been shed; D.Hill has too but he recovers to shoulder block Funchess's guy while Dileo(+1) takes care of Delano's--not easy to do that without blocking in the back. Funchess may have a chance to redeem himself by setting up as the new lead blocker but before he can Jackson's guy just barely gets an ankle tackle.
Corner right 3 15 min 27-13 35-R -4 Norfleet 29 M25
Norfleet gets it 4 yards deep and brings even though coverage is already past the 30. Rawls/Houma (+0.5 each) get the seal, along with D.Hill(+1) and Dileo heads into that hole to pop a guy and maybe get a big return. Gedeon(-2) has been sent up to meet the point of attack this time instead of being part of the convoy, but ends up wiping out all that good work by getting too far up-field and losing his man. That guy sets up and forces Norfleet away from his blocking. Speed (wipes out bad decision minus) gets Norfleet past Gedeon's guy's arm tackle attempt and 6 more yards before all the unblocked dudes stop him at the 25.
Corner right 3 5 min 27-20 35-R 1 Norfleet 21 M22
Cool overhead cam. Michigan has Gedeon shoot up again and Dileo setting the outside. Rawls/Houma get their block (+0.5s). Dileo is a bit late to do so but does pop the 2nd man to provide a very nice crease to the field and epic space if Norfleet sees it; he doesn't(-2) until he's already in the hole and has stopped to ponder it. Good blocks from Gedeon, Furman, Jackson and Thomas (+0.5 each) rendered irrelevant by the hesitation, three Domers tackle.
Boot 4 12 min 34-27 35-R Out n/a n/a Tchbk
Brindza's Hayden Epstein Memorial kickoff field goal attempt is just short and wide right.
Deep right 4 9 min 34-30 35-R Out n/a n/a Tchbk
Nearly lands in the seats.
Game Notes: After three plays that were just one thing away from breaking, Kelly decides the 25 yard line suits him just fine.
Play Qtr Time Score From To Player Rtn Rlt
Corner left 1 3 min 7-3 35-L 12 Norfleet 14 M26
Weenie-legged kicker (left-footed, is why it's from left hash—he's not Wile) means they've got four returners back there: Gedeon lifted for Lewis, Houma for Chesson; setup from left to right is Dileo-Rawls-Lewis and then Norfleet-Chesson deep. Zips line up tight like they might onside then kick to the back corner. Norfleet has to decide whether to take it at the 12 just a few yards from the sideline or let it bounce and hope it goes OOB--he chooses to take it. Alignment and placement means there's quickly a mass of bodies. Lewis(+1) gets a good shoulder block to make a tiny hole that's quickly closed down by the guy who cuts to the other side of an indifferent Funchess(-1).
Pooch right 3 15 min 7-3 35-L 20 Dileo 7 M27
Kicker doesn't have much leg and this could work to M's advantage. Norfleet was there to receive but Dileo is already under and takes it. Norfleet(-2) isn't the blocker that Dileo is and whiffs on the first arrival. Blocking is set up well for a big return to the field side but Houma(-1) has lost his man. Norfleet's guy slows Dileo long enough for Houma's guy to get in and make this dead after just 5 yards. Microcosm of the day.
Corner right 3 10 min 7-10 35-R 20 Dileo 23 M43
Trying from the other hash, short kick wipes out both deep guys from the play; at least Chesson is booking forward to help while Norfleet(-1) is lazily jogging around. Dileo gets the ball on the 20 with the coverage barely past midfield. He cuts inside then outside, fooling the rush(+2) but also fooling Jackson(-1) who follows his man inside instead of walling off the backside. There's nobody there because Funchess(+3) has buried his Roo at the 40 and that gives Dileo 10 yards down the sideline before he runs out of room.
Boot 4 15 min 21-17 35-L -2 Norfleet n/a Tchbk
Into the wind so he just lines as hard as he can. Coverage barely past the 40 but Norfleet is backing up when he catches it 2 yards deep so he kneels.
??? 4 4 min 21-24 35-? 10 Chesson 20 M30
BTN(-5) misses this play to get a few extra commercials in. From memory Chesson nearly broke this.
Game Notes: Deep players consistently erased by lulu kicker. Question for helpful people: what do you do if you know your opponent's unlikely to get the ball past the 15?
Play Qtr Time Score From To Player Rtn Rlt
Deep left 2 4 min 7-7 35-C -8 n/a n/a Tchbk
Over Norfleet's head.
Boot 2 2 min 14-7 20-C 14 Norfleet 30 M44
First of two UConn took from the 20 because of excessive celebration--their only option is boot it and try to arrive en masse. Norfleet collects at the 15 with 40 yards between him and the coverage. C.Gordon(-1) loses his guy and that uses up Dileo. Then Rawls(-1) runs right by the next dude and that guy tackles.
Deep center 3 15 min 14-7 35-C -7 n/a n/a Tchbk
Norfleet watches it sail.
Pooch left 3 14 min 21-7 20-C 20 Norfleet 15 M35
Again celebration penalty means they're kicking from the 20. This time they kick a liner that Norfleet fields off the second hop. Houma(+2) peeled off to seal the side this time and drives his guy nearly out of bounds to open a big hole between that and a mediocre Rawls/Gedeon double. Dileo shoots into that gap and Norfleet(-2) can follow into Husky territory. However Thomas(-1) has lost his guy, who's now threatening the hole. Reading this, Norfleet  cuts sideways to the field and right into a million unblocked guys. Blame falls mostly on Norfleet because he wasted Dileo by not following him.
Game Notes: Friendly advice, Huskies: save your dancing for before the kickoff.


Not so fast guy. He's harder to capture than a jackrabbit covered in bacon grease, but like Toussaint even when he's got good blocking he sometimes wipes that out with bad vision, or not-great vision. Maybe we need a Norfleetchart to see which is winning?

You just combined two of my favorite things in the world.


Yeah, Baconrabbit /s


Game + - Tot Note
CMU 4 2 +2 4 returns, one bad read, two nearly broken.
ND 2 3 -1 Vision betrays, speed makes up for it.
Akron - - - kicker was a lulu
UConn 2 -2 Got zero despite two kickoffs from the twenty
Subtotal 6 7 -1 euh.

Dileo was +2/0/+2 on two Akron returns FWIW. Baconrabbit needs to stop hopping to the wrong side of his blocks. Then again the difference is what you make of this:

Dileo was juuust a bit too late to recognize which guy to pop. Norfleet saw the hole that provided juuuust a bit too late. Screencap:


He had to go left else run right into the guy Dileo eventually blocked but I'd like him to see that block and go right immediately. The thing that great kick returners do is they see a lane developing like that and cut immediately. Here Norfleet took a couple of steps to decelerate and reassess once he got in that hole, and thus met the two guys Jackson was trying to deal with before he could take it.

I'm also concerned that he appears to be reading one middle block instead of following his convoy, which might be coached because it's a simple thing to do but isn't helping and Dileo certainly isn't reading the same thing. The last UConn return was one. The torrent didn't have video but I managed to screen cap the first kickoff of the year from BTN replay. The left side is open with a lead blocker:


…but Norfleet is seeing a gunner has gone to the field side of Delano Hill so he cuts to the sideline, where there's an unblocked man he has to go around.

Norfleet never kneels unless by Act by Congress.

He does decide to bring it out more often than he should but I totally don't mind this. Look at the one at the start of the 2nd half against Notre Dame. He's standing on the crossbar of the 'A' and the coverage is already at the 30. Your no-fools-raising momma taught you to take a knee here:


But he brings, and good blocking nearly got him a 50-yard return on the left sideline if Gedeon didn't whiff his guy. Norfleet still made that guy miss and then charged into the cavalry to make up everything he lost by not kneeling. Ball on the 25, or ball on the 25 with a  chance for big gain?

Speaking of the blocking?

Well for that we should do that thing again.


Player + - Total Note
C.Gordon 2 1 +1 May be doing more off screen.
D.Hill 3.5 - +3.5 I like him.
Dileo 1 - +1 Mountain goat in progress.
Funchess 3 3 0 Just like his regular blocking: erratic and eventful
Furman 0.5 - 0.5  
Gedeon 0.5 2 -1.5 Worse than I thought.
Houma 2.5 4 -1.5 Not so good at combos
Jackson 0.5 1 -0.5  
Lewis 1 - +1  
Norfleet - 3 -3 We got the message.
Rawls 1.5 1 0.5 Better than I thought.
Thomas 0.5 3.5 -3 Work in progress
TOTAL 16.5 18.5 -2 Better than the running game at least

They're so close.

What it means for Minnesota and beyond?

Right now the kick returning game is just treading water; they'll break one or two if they can get Norfleet to see them and miss a few other opportunities when he doesn't.



September 26th, 2013 at 11:01 AM ^

Freak athlete > Mooseback for returns in my book. You want either someone who can scatter, or a one-cut-and-go returner.

Granted, I've never seen Green return a kick, but I have to think they've got a few guys doing it in practice.


September 26th, 2013 at 11:07 AM ^

Green should be focusing solely on learning pass blocking, so he can get 5-8 reps a game at TB. There are enough guys on the roster who don't have potential workhorse RB futures that can provide help to the return games.

Space Coyote

September 26th, 2013 at 11:11 AM ^

What I will say is there is a numbering system that the KO return team uses for the kicking team. L (for left) 1-5, with 1 being outside most, 5 closest to the middle, and R (for right) 1-5, with 1 being to the sideline, 5 more toward the middle. The kicker is the kicker because he's a kicker and not a normal football player or a normal player or a normal person because he's a kicker.

Especially because you can no longer wedge, this is pretty well scouted on film. They will identify who the safeties typically are, and they have specific numbers they are intended to block. Typically there are what I've always called "head forcer" and "head tracker", which are the first two players shooting directly at the KR, with the forcer being the first player through (the doubled guy) and the tracker being the next (the singled guy). Whether they try to split them, or seal them is up to what return is called (right, left, middle) and how the players manage to stay in their lane.

The next level guys will be responsible for certain numbers to block in a way to set up the return. That's the basic idea behind kickoffs. Obviously there are things that change and different coaches do things differently, but that covers a lot of the fundamentals.

So, just to conclude, it's much less "random" or "first guy through" or how it looks. It's actually a fairly well coordinated plan. Teams will attack weaknesses (who's the slowest guy, who gets out of their lane often, etc) and plan for any twists that KO teams use (this is why you see teams twist their players on KOs, to try to throw off the return teams numbering) and how they attack the football. This will probably be a grad assistants job or the special teams coordinator job, but it is an important job as it can really change field position. Figuring out another teams weakness on a coverage unit can lead to huge results in a game.

EDIT: Kickoff numbering system


September 26th, 2013 at 12:02 PM ^

Northfleet is 5th in the country in yards per return for returners with 10 returns or more with 24.4. 2 of the 4 in front of him have a return of over 80 yards. This is good news.

There has been (I think) 269 games played this year in the FBS. There has been 16 kicks returned for touchdowns. Nobody has returned more than one.

Will Northfleet ever break one for a TD? It's not something that happens often.


September 26th, 2013 at 12:56 PM ^

So some of the biggest kicks consistently are the reverse, and the fake reverse on the kickoff. What if: on every kick one dude come around for a reverse option, and the returner does a "read option" and reads the defense and decides whether he should pitch it or keep it. I think if this was used, there would be more consistently big kickoff run backs


September 26th, 2013 at 4:27 PM ^

Interestingly, I remember Bo doing that on kick off returns almost all the time for a period back when I was in school.  (I think undergrad, but in either event it was while I was in the Stadium.)  I forget whether it was for one season only or whether it was for a longer time, but it was the standard return with two guys deep.  One would catch the ball and then they would run laterally to each other and either hand off or not and then head up field.

I don't have any particular recollection whether it was particularly successful.  It obviously caused a delay in time that would have to be outweighed by the potential for deception.

I also don't know if we only ran it against inferior competition.  Maybe we didn't monkey with it against Ohio State, for example.

One of you ST experts should go back and check the records (if there are any) or film from the early 80s.


September 27th, 2013 at 11:40 AM ^

I agree with your analysis on Norfleet.  However, on that video shot you freeze frame, where you would have Norfleet anticipate Dileo's block and go right - if you stop the video at 9 seconds (you can't see him in the photo) you will see that guy coming from the hash on the right freely unblocked.  I'm thinking he would have tagged little Norfleet before he scooted through the hole.


September 27th, 2013 at 12:42 PM ^

Seth - Loving the special teams UFRs!  Hoping this will be a regular feature (among the MANY other regular features).

One minor quibble:  Although they look identical on tape, I believe the #4 on kick return is actually Deveon Smith, not Cam Gordon.