It’s fourth down, the pressure is on and the offense decides to punt. Your job as a returner starts before the ball is even punted. As soon as the ball is snapped and the punter has it in his hands, you need to be watching the ball of their left foot. As the ball flies into the air, put yourself in proper position to make the catch.
Your movement as the ball is punted is critical in making a successful catch. You need to put yourself in the right location to field the ball. If the ball is punted and tails to the right (your left), plant your right foot, open your body 45 degrees and sprint back to get depth. If the ball is punted in the opposite direction, just mirror your movements.
Don’t take your eyes off the ball as you get into position. Once the ball has reached its highest point, position yourself behind it. As it descends, move forward toward the ball.
Keep your elbows up and in tight. If your elbows flare outward, you are creating a big hole for the ball to drop through as you attempt to make the catch. You want to trap the ball in between your body and forearms, squeezing tight with your hands. Once the ball is secured, immediately shift your eyes to the oncoming defenders and begin to move up field.
On a punt that is kicked directly overhead, open to the right or left at a 90-degree angle. Turn in the direction you are most comfortable with, and the one in which you have the best view of the ball while gaining depth.
No matter which way you turn, you want to get back quickly so that you can settle into position and track the ball from the highest point before moving forward to catch and secure it. Once the ball is secure, get your eyes up and your feet moving up the field.
As a punt returner, using proper footwork, body and arm positioning will help you make a clean catch, so that you can make a play and set up the offense for success.