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Dropkick

Posted by John Reed on

The last drop kick in the NFL was in 1941 until Doug Flutie’s fooling around in a meaningless game on New Year’s Day 2006. People say the drop kick stopped being used because of a 1934 change in the shape of the ball which made its bounce less dependable. The ball was made skinnier to facilitate passing.

The drop kick is still allowed by the rule books at all three levels: high school, college, and pro.

No holder

Does it have any real advantages? Not many. Mainly, it eliminates the need for a holder. Indeed, the rules of the drop kick require that the guy who drops the ball be the same as the guy who kicks it. A drop kick is defined as one in which the kicker drops the ball onto the ground and kicks it while it is still in contact with the ground or after it makes contact with the ground.

By eliminating the need for a holder, it frees up an additional blocker. However, the place-kicking formation is balanced with a kicker and holder. With no holder, you would have one more blocker on one side than the other. In order to make effective use of him, he would have to be in motion to get to the side where the defense had the most rushers.

Another reason to want to eliminate the holder would be that he is injured and there is no backup. However, it is likely easier to create multiple backup holders than it is to learn how to drop kick.

Quick-kick field goal

The only other reason I can think of for a drop kick at the high school, college, or pro level would be as a surprise, quick-kick field goal. Since six or seven points are better than three, teams only kick field goals at the end of a game when they are enough to tie or win the game or earlier in the game when they think the probability of getting a touchdown is so much less than the probability of getting a field goal that it makes more sense to attempt the field goal. So the defense generally knows whether you are going for a field goal or touchdown by the game situation.

Lining up in a shotgun rather than a traditional double-wing, double-tight-end, field-goal formation might result in a lesser rush and less chance of the kick being blocked. But not many field-goal attempts are blocked from the traditional place-kick formation. Whether field-goal quick kicks would be blocked less often is questionable. Probably, the defense would have to be in a prevent alignment and mental state to make the chances of a blocked kick lessened by a shotgun formation quick kick. also, it might have to be an earlier down than fourth down to cause the defense to not expect the drop kick field goal attempt.

No block

The drop kick quick kick field goal would make more sense at the high school and youth levels because the kickers there are used to using the two-inch block and the absence of the block on the field would generally persuade the defense that no field-goal attempt was forthcoming. At the college and pro levels, the block is not allowed.

Artificial surfaces

I think the drop kick makes more sense today than recently because of the near universal use of artificial surfaces. The skinnier ball did not bounce as true on grass than the old rounder football. But the new surfaces are extremely uniform so the drop kick would probably be easier to do nowadays.

Why on the point?

Drop kicks, including Flutie’s, have always been bounced off their point. Why? The rule does not require it. I guess it’s because that looks more like a hold or a ball on a tee.

Why not bounce it on the fat part of the ball? That’s as round as it ever was. I have seen punters at college and pro games repeatedly fling the ball down on the surface on its side and make it bounce straight back up in pre-game warm-ups. They did it to simulate a snap then they punted the ball.

Youth rules

At the youth levels, the drop kick for a P.A.T. makes far more sense. In youth football, a kicked P.A.T. is worth two points and a run or pass P.A.T. is only worth one—the opposite of the high school, college, and pro rule. So an apparent attempt at a one-point conversion that turned into a surprise drop kick would make sense pointwise.

Leg strength

Far more importantly is the lack of leg strength of youth place kickers. As a general rule, kids 8 to 11 years old have a very hard time kicking even P.A.T.s I suspect that’s why they count for two rather than one point. When I coached youth football, my place kickers would practice kicking extra points before every practice. Other players around them would easily punt the ball through the uprights from equal or greater distances. But the place kickers rarely made it. We got one 11-year-old to do do it one season, but we had to tilt the ball way back at a 45-degree angle to do it.

So is there a way to punt the ball through the uprights and get credit for a P.A.T. or field goal? Not per se. But the drop kick, which does count for two or three points if it goes through the uprights, is punt like, especially if the ball is horizontal rather than vertical in the drop.

I am trying to arrange a test of this theory with some ten-year-old kickers, but I have not yet been able to do so because of recent rain. I want to test dropping the ball on its point, dropping it on its side with the ball perpendicular to the yard lines and dropping it on its side with the ball parallel to the yard lines.

I assume we will need to fiddle with the timing, steps, whether to just drop the ball or to impart some greater speed to it by throwing it down somewhat. But I suspect that it will enable 8- to 11 year-olds to successfully kick P.A.T.s and short field goals.

Generally, the drop kick still does not makes sense at the high school, college, or pro levels. But it does make sense in youth football at all levels because of the P.A.T.-point rules and it especially makes sense at the 8- to 11-year-old levels because they have the leg strength to punt the ball through the uprights, but not to place kick it through.

Test of my theory on 1/4/06

I tried having 10-year old place kicker Ryan Bandrowski, with the help of his brother Eric, drop kick on 1/4/06 to see if kids that age could do it. He could, but was not consistent.

We found that the drop was key. The ball has to bounce straight up or your done. We tried turning it parallel to the yard line and dropping it with one hand. We had some success with that, but had a hard time keeping it level. In that configuration, I had the right-footed kicker stand with his left foot forward, lean forward, drop the ball as far out in front of him as he could reach, then rock back onto his right foot, then step forward on the left, and kick.

If the ball bounced straight back up, that sequence would result in a successful field goal. It was obvious that the kicker needed to get at least a hundred or more reps of just the drop to become consistent with it.

We tried dropping the ball on its point and found it almost impossible to get a good bounce. We also tried pointing the ball at the goal posts, but that made it harder to tell if it was level than dropping it sideways.

Throw it down

I wondered it throwing the ball down might work better on the theory that it gave the kicker less time to think about it. Ryan said he had learned how to throw it down and have it bounce right back up consistently before he ever heard of drop kicks. He then demonstrated precisely that. But he had to throw it down next to his right foot.

I tried it and found that I, too, could make it bounce straight back up consistently if I threw it down beside or a little bit in front of my right foot. The problem then becomes how do you get into position to kick it before it falls back down to earth. One possible solution that we did not try would be to throw it down so the back point is a little lower. That should make it bounce somewhat forward on the way back up. That forward bounce, if it could be controlled, would allow you to take the step you need to get power into the kick.

I was borrowing someone else’s kid so I only got to work on this for about an hour. I hope some others will spend more time fiddling with it to find the best way to drop and kick it. If you do, please tell me what worked best.

Here are the two books I wrote that cover special teams:


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