What is even better is the return game. Both you and the CPU can break a big return at any time, but without the cheesiness from either end. Over the years, I have slowly built up simple but effective strategies for effective return play. I feel that it is my duty to share those with you today.
I want to cover which plays I like to run for which situations, from location of the catch to yardage marker effectiveness. It all plays a factor into my return game success.
Kick Return Strategy
Let’s start off with the opening play of every game. You only have two plays to choose from: Kick Return and Onside Recover. For normal kickoffs, you obviously want to pick “Kick Return”.
Now, when it comes to converting successful kick returns, where you catch the ball is everything. I divide the field into three sections: the area between the hash marks, and the two areas on either side.
Your absolute best chance of having a successful kick return is to catch the ball, initially, outside of the hash marks. Do not bother trying to return one between the hashes! Here’s why.
You will notice how even though I have five guys blocking ahead of me, I am still outnumbered from all angles. I count eight defenders who can easily make the play here.
I was hoping that all of my blockers would find a guy to block but that is sadly not the case. Both #23 and #82 run right by defenders while #51 and #15 can’t contain their blocks. I have no chance here.
In all my years of playing 06, I can’t remember one time where I made a big return going down the middle of the field, between the hashes.
Think about it. When you watch real football, How many kick returns do you see scored going right down the middle? The return man usually has to bounce it to the outside to make it work. It is no different in NCAA 06.
If the ball is kicked in the middle of the field and you can’t get a touchback, what I always do is simply dive on the ground before I get hit. That sounds stupid but you are better off in the long run.
You don’t know how many times I have fumbled the ball trying to run down the middle. The only time you see the CPU break one down the middle is due to poor tackling on your team’s part. Be smart about it and dive before someone takes your head off because they will, trust me. That is what causes turnovers and injuries.
Ok, now for the good news.
The two outside areas of the field (outside the hashes) is where it’s at. You can build Heisman candidates using this strategy, but not in a cheesy way.
It is even harder to catch the ball in the middle of the field and try to run to the outside to make a play. You will never be fast enough to do so since the defense is great about containing their lanes.
Take a look at what happens when you try to return one outside the hashes.
Notice the number advantage here. I have a 6 on 3 advantage!
When it comes to using your speed button, wait just before your blockers make contact with their defenders, then you pound that speed button and you’re off to the races.
Sometimes you can even hammer down the speed button right when you catch it. You need to practice this to get a better feel for when and when not to use the speed button.
Even if the ball is caught five yards deep in the end zone, I will more often than not come out with it, as long as it is caught outside the hashes.
Notice on this return how two of my guys make excellent blocks while #18 completely whiffs on a potential tackle. I have #15 blocking for me on down the road, and I will be testing my 40-time real soon!
Notice here how I catch it right on the hash and attempt to make a play. I feel like I’m at a real disadvantage since most of my blockers that are in front of me are not fanning out.
Here is a return on the left side of the field. Again, notice my numbers advantage. The defense even called the right play by having all 11 guys run to my direction, but it doesn’t matter.
If I can get the blocks and use the speed button at the right time then I have a chance to make ESPN Sportscenter’s Top 10.
Onside Kick Return Strategy
Now you would think that calling the “Onside Recover” play for an onside kick would make sense. However, I never make that call and here’s why.
Here is the normal setup for an onside play. What’s the worst that can happen?
A turnover that’s what!
I don’t care if you put your best receivers on the field. The chances of your players fumbling or mishandling the ball are very high in this situation. Just your luck, the ball will bounce right off one of your players’ helmets.
You have no clue how that ball will bounce so why take the risk of giving the ball back to the other team?It just isn’t worth taking that risk when you have better options.
Here is what you do instead.
Pick the “Kick Return” play!
The reason you pick this play is due to the wide open spaces between your players. 99 times out of 100 the ball will be kicked between your players. When that happens, your players either will run down and get the ball safely or the ball will go out of bounds.
I strongly suggest to you control either player right outside the hash marks that is on the screen, depending on the kicker’s foot.
In the image above, I am controlling the player on the left since I am facing a righty kicker. I would control the player on the right side against a left kicker.
You want to control these guys so you can simply get out of the way when the ball is kicked. I always move him backwards to avoid the ball hitting me and possibly bouncing right towards the defenders.
Simply get out of the way of the ball and you should have no troubles.
Punt Return Strategy
A punt return for a touchdown is just as dynamic as a kick return, and there are chances to make big plays here in 06. This is where catching the ball at certain yardage distances comes into play.
There are only two plays I call on punt return situations since there are only two scenarios you will have to deal with. Let’s break down both of these scenarios.
- When the 4th down ball is placed on the offense’s side of the field (49 yard line and backwards), I call the “Double Cross” Play
- When the 4th down ball is placed on the your side of the field (49 yard line and forwards), I call the “Field Goal Block” play
The Double Cross play is by far the best punt return play to call when you want to take one back to the house. The blocking is consistent and it allows you to take the ball to either side of the field.
It also doesn’t matter where you catch the ball (left, right, or middle of the field). This play is extremely effective.
This play is meant for you to go to one side of the field or the other. Just like on kick returns, your best bet is to operate on the outsides since the blocking is simply better there.
#23 and #2 are my “crossers” here. They will follow the ball and once you catch it, one crosser will go one way to block and the other crosser will block on the other side.
This play gives you exactly what you need for a successful punt return: two lead blockers for either side, where we know by now that this is where you can do most of your damage.
Obviously there will be times when you can’t return one and in this case, you have to fair-catch the ball. I don’t want to insult your intelligence so just use common sense and know when to fair-catch it like shown above.
Now let’s talk about the other scenario.
The reason I call the “Field Goal Block” play is for one reason: to get my players out of the way, including the returner!
Here I decide to call the “Safe Return” play, but what happens is that you end up with too many of your players near the ball when it hits ground.
Notice that I even move both return men out of the way (your starting safeties are your return men for this play, not #4) the ball will get tipped and look what happens…
The ball gets tipped and touches one of my players. MUFFED!!!
This is the last thing you want to happen, especially this close to your own goal-line.
Look at these three plays. Notice your outside defenders, the orange Xs. This indicates that they are playing Man. This also means that they will follow their man all the way down the field and in this case, close to your goal-line.
We don’t want our guys near the ball that close to our own goal-line.
Here is what you do instead.
When you call the “Field Goal Block” play, all 11 of your players will be far away from the goal-line and the ball. Whatever it takes to keep you players away from the ball in this situation, you do it. Field Goal Block is your answer.
I always control the the Free Safety here, just in case the CPU doesn’t try to force him to run back and make the catch.
The reason you don’t call any of the punt block plays is so you don’t have to waste your time moving your returner away from the action since he is already close to the line of scrimmage on your Field Goal Block
Basically, just try to stay out of the way on punt returns when you know you have no chance of actually returning it, fumbling it, muffing it, etc.
Who Should Be My Returners?
I like to put my fastest, most agile athletes at all three spots, 2 returners on kick return and 1 on punt return.
My one caveat is that I normally like to put backups here simply due to the chance of injuries. I believe injuries occur more on special teams than in any other situation, at least in this game.
Now by all means, if you have a 99 SPD and 99 AGI wide receiver who is already and All-American, start him at both returns. There are too many chances to completely change a game with a return to not put your best athlete back there.
However, if I have great athletes who don’t play much during the game, I love to get them involved in the return game. Freshman speedsters are great for this.
Finally, make sure you put players back there that can catch the ball. The last thing you want is a muffed catch. This isn’t that big of a deal on kick returns since you have time to make up for the mistake, but it is imperative to you have a good catcher for punt returns.
Hopefully these tips will help you enjoy Special Teams much more than in the past. There are no guarantees of busting big returns every time, but chances are there for you to make big plays when they are there for the taking.
Your opponent is just as deadly with returns as well so there is never a dull moment on Special Teams in NCAA 06.
If you have any questions, feel free to share them in the comment section.