Kicking 101

Published on May 29, 2014 9:05 PM by dbo.

Kicking is still a major part of the the game of Canadian football. It is, however, made more complicated than it seems by many. Understanding the commonality of the kicking game rules will bring all kicking aspects — punts, field goals and kickoffs — into a singular focus.

Note: This article contains my interpretation of the rulebook. While I strive to be as accurate as possible, I am a lay person reading and interpreting the rulebook; I have no football officiating training. Please contact me with any corrections required here so inaccurate information is not left on the web.

The Commonality of Kicking Rules

Kicking used to be the major method of moving the ball in the early days of football. Players would kick from anywhere on the field and onside players would try to recover. Before the forward pass and modern strategies, it was a game of field position. Teams would employ the strategy of kicking the ball out of danger from deep in their end, often immediately upon receiving a kicked ball. Kicking on first and second down for field position was popular and teams with superior kicking would work on moving the ball through the difference in the kicking exchange. Quick kicks, as they became known, were still employed through the 1960’s and 1970’s, dwindling in popularity in the 1980’s and there perhaps hasn’t been a quick kick executed in over 20-25 years now. Update 2017: Recent seasons have seen a few quick kick attempts, both in the traditional sense and ones that attempt to exploit the rule of recovery on a punt that crosses the line of scrimmage by an onside player. A deeper explanation of this type of onside kick is found in the advanced Kicking 201 course.

To accommodate this early focus on kicking, the rules developed core commonalities amongst the different methods of kicking to provide a balanced arrangement to the offensive and defensive teams.

The key to kicking is the onside requirement. All kicking plays, yes all kicking plays, including kickoffs, involve players either onside or offside. A kickoff requires all players to not be in advance of the ball before the ball is kicked or be called offside. The only exception to this is a player who is holding the ball, who is allowed to be offside. (The receiving team can also be offside if they are within 10-yards of the line from where the ball is kicked before it is kicked). Therefore all kicking team players are onside and can recover a kickoff. This is one of the most common misconceptions in our football code — a no yards penalty on a kickoff. Everyone calls for it at some point when learning the game. It is impossible as all players must be onside in a legal play and therefore can recover the ball before it is touched by the opposition. If a player is offside on a kickoff, a flag will be thrown and the opposition will have the choice to accept the penalty and have the ball re-kicked 5-yards back. From this comes the term onside kickoff, which is a misnomer, since all kickoffs are onside unless penalized because a player is offside. It is not a rule suspended for those special kickoffs needed for comebacks. Players can recover the ball on all kickoffs and do not have to give the returner any space (there are restrictions on interfering with an opponent attempting to play or recover the ball until possession is gained). Short kickoff is a better descriptive of the play. However, what an onside kick represents is a team is trying to recover the ball by an onside (any) player instead of kicking the ball to the opposition and attempting to limit the return.

The requirements of all kickoffs are they must travel 10-yards before the ball can be touched by a player from the kicking team and the ball must not go out of bounds. Unless touched by the opposition, a kickoff must travel 10-yards before it can be touched by a player from the kicking team. The receiving team can nullify the ball having to travel 10-yards by touching the ball before it reaches that requirement. A kickoff also must not travel out of bounds before being touched by any player. Committing either offence will result in the option of a penalty and re-kick at the discretion of the receiving team.

Update 2018: I still receive questions doubting this interpretation of onside for kickoffs, with many believing that yards need to be given by all players except the kicker on kickoffs (with no alternate explanation of rules surrounding recovery of own short kickoff by non-kicker). This may be because the above is short on references and explanation, so I am adding to it in the hope to better explain how to read the rulebook to reach this conclusion.

The first article of the Kickoff section defines kickoff points. The second article defines a legal kickoff, with point (a) setting the requirement for the ball to travel 10 yards before Team A (the kicking team) may touch the ball. The third article defines offside for a kickoff for Team A. The telling piece here is “The player holding the ball is deemed to be onside and is eligible to recover the kickoff in the same manner as any other Team A player.” (Emphasis mine). If a player is offside, there is a penalty and the kickoff is repeated or receiving team option. Therefore, a legal kickoff cannot occur with an offside player. There is no indication that the terms “offside” and “onside” are defined differently here. Articles 4, 5 and 6 cover offside for a kickoff for Team B, interference on a kickoff for Team B and interference on a kickoff for Team A. Finally, article 7 defines gaining possession on a kickoff.

When reading a rulebook, we have to examine both what the rules say and what they don’t say. There is no definition of Restriction on Offside Player (“No Yards”) stated under the kickoff section; as per Article 3, no kicking team member is allowed to be offside (violation results in 5 yard penalty and repeat kickoff). Onside players are eligible to recover the kickoff, as can be seen by inference in the whole section and absence of a Article disallowing it.

Looking elsewhere, under Section 4 Kick from Scrimmage and Open Field Kick, we can look for additional supporting evidence. Article 1 Restriction on Offside Player (No Yards) states it applies only to kick from scrimmage (punt, field goal or kicked convert). A kickoff is not a kick from scrimmage, by definition. This is the only definition of No Yards in the rulebook. This again supports the idea there is no need for a “No Yards” rule on kickoffs, as a penalty exists for offside players.

The idea that the ball is available to all players on a kickoff is counter-intuitive to some people as they believe teams should be using that factor to try to recover the ball on each kickoff. This does happen on deep kickoffs without the ball being touched, but rarely. The reasons why that is not the case are buried deep in football strategy and not covered here, but some independent research will reveal the basis and history of today’s strategy.

End Update 2018

The same onside/offside rules apply to field goals and punts. Players behind the ball when it is kicked are onside, and like the kicker, can recover the ball before it is touched. The same applies to a quick kick or open-field kick. Players behind the ball are onside and eligible to recover the ball. Update: The Ottawa RedBlacks took advantage of this rule to score their first touchdown at TD Place in 2014.

To fully understand kicking, though, one must understand the terms and definitions used in the Canadian game.

A Kicked Ball

A kicked ball is one that is struck by the foot or leg below the knee. A ball that accidentally strikes a player’s foot or leg will not be ruled a kicked ball.

For an accidental strike of foot or leg to occur, the leg must be stationary or the ball must strike the leg in normal motion that cannot be considered a kicking motion, is my opinion of how the rule has been interpreted. Loose balls that strike the foot or leg of a player are considered a dribbled ball (see below).

The Drop Kick

Field goals can be scored two ways, from the traditional place kick, off the ground or a legal kicking tee, or a drop kick, where the ball is kicked after being dropped and striking the ground. The similarity here is the ball must have touched the ground to be a valid kick to score a field goal. Therefore, a punt, which is kicked as it is dropped from the punter’s hands before it hits the ground, is not a legal kick to score a field goal even if it passes through the uprights.

Scoring on Kickoffs

Those learning the game but without experience often surmise that a kickoff through the goal posts should count as a field goal, after all it is kicked off the ground and passes through the goal posts like a field goal does. Why don’t teams try this more often? A logical conclusion from someone trying to determine the rules by simply watching the game. The reason is because the rulebook specifically forbids a field goal score from occurring on a kickoff. The kickoff is meant to put the ball back into play, like a face-off or throw-in. Scoring a single point on a kickoff requires the receiving team to concede the point in the end zone in exchange for yardage in the placement of scrimmage. A kickoff passing over the deadline untouched is specifically noted to not score a single point in the definition of the single point.

The Quick Kick

The strategy behind a quick kick is in the element of surprise, with the potential to get an exchange in field position and possibly recover the ball for advancement.

Initially performed to take advantage of superior kicking, wind or timing in the days before the forward pass, it became an option used mostly by teams facing long yardage (25+ yards) to gain a first down due to penalty or loss. These teams would choose to employ a quick kick on first or second down, likely with the wind at their back, in an attempt to flip the field position before any further losses. Lining up in a standard formation, the defence will have no returners in place and will likely be taken by surprise. Offensive players who can remain behind the quarterback (or player who kicks the ball) are onside and eligible to recover the football. Even if the ball is not recovered, it is expected that the return will be limited due to the element of surprise.

Quick kicks originated from the style of football called “straight” football that was prevalent in Canada before the end of the Second World War (see below). As the game strategy changed with more American influence, quick kicks were used infrequently in special situations for surprise, rather than a known strategy. As positions became more specialized and quarterbacks became single position players and kicking was not a skill held by any player except the designated kickers on the team, quick kicks became less used because they were less valuable. Players on the field could no long kick for distance or position, or even get the ball away in close quarters and the risk of a quick kick outweighed any potential benefit.

Dribbled Ball

A dribbled ball is defined in Rule 5, Section 1, Article 5 of the CFL Rulebook.

A dribbled ball occurs when the ball is kicked while not in possession or control of a player, i.e. a loose ball following a fumble, a blocked kick, a kickoff or a kick from scrimmage. Such a dribbled ball may be touched by the kicker or an onside player without penalty.

Essentially, a loose ball which is contacted by the foot or leg of a player is a dribbled ball. Standard onside/offside rules apply. It should be noted that the Restriction on an Offside Player (No Yards) does not apply in the case of a dribbled ball. This means that though the offside player may not recover (or touch) the ball, they may be within 5 yards of the ball when it is recovered.

Kicking Out of Bounds

Another special scenario is kicking the ball out of bounds. This is covered by two rules covering kicking the ball out of bounds in the field of play and kicking the ball out of bounds in the goal area.

Kicked Out of Bounds in Field of Play

When the ball is kicked out of bounds in the field of play, possession of the ball is given to the other team at the point the ball went out of bounds subject to penalty applicable on a kickoff.

Very simply, kicking the ball always implies transfer of possession unless it is recovered by a legal (onside) player.

Kicked Out of Bounds in Own Goal Area

When a team kicks the ball out of bounds in its own goal area, the ball is considered dead in the goal area and it is either a single point if the ball was kicked into the goal area by the opponent or a safety touch if kicked, passed or carried into the goal area by the team scored against.

To demonstrate scenario A, consider a tie game with Team A at the opposition 50 yard line with a strong wind behind them with seconds left. They put out the punt team and kick the ball 15 yards deep in the end zone. Team B receives the ball, and to avoid the single point, kicks the ball back. However, it is shanked and with the wind, blows out of bounds in the goal area. Team A would be awarded a single point and a victory.

To illustrate scenario B, a common occurrence is a bad snap on a punt. The punter kicks the ball off the ground through his end zone. A safety is scored. The same occurs if the ball is carried by a player into the end zone, fumbled, then kicked out of bounds. If the ball is snapped to a kicker in the end zone and his kick goes out of bounds in the goal area, it is, again, a safety touch.

The exception to this is if the team had gained possession of the ball in their goal area by interception or recovery of an opponent’s fumble, then no score is made and the team shall take possession on their 25-yard line.

Note: I need help confirming my interpretation of the last paragraph of Article 9 of Rule 1, Section 9. I could not come up with a scenario where a single point would be scored, nor could I remember such an occurrence. If you are a trained official, please drop me a line with either a confirmation or correction. Thanks!

The same rule covers if a team kicks the ball out of bounds in the opposition’s goal area. If such occurs without gaining possession, it shall be considered as the opponent had kicked the ball out of bounds in their own goal area. Therefore, the only score that can occur in this scenario is a safety touch.

An example of this scenario is Team A fumbling the ball and kicking it from the field of play or goal area out of bounds in the goal area of Team B. Since it will be considered as the opponent kicked the ball, a safety touch will be scored.

Some History

Despite changes over the years, the main rules surrounding kicking have remained. What has changed is the terminology and strategy. The adoption of new rules, better training and improved skills changed the tactics used in the first 50 years of the 20th century compared to the last 50 years and beyond.

The Rouge

The term rouge actually comes from the scoring of a specific single point, not all single points. When a player was unable to return the ball out of his goal area on a kick, the player was rouged and a rouge was scored. Kicks to the deadline were scored as 1 point for kick to deadline.

The current rule book defines the single point or rouge for all ways to score a single point, and this has likely been in place since the rulebook was rewritten in 1966. The term rouge had already begun to fall out of use by that time, and is now only used for descriptive and traditional reasons.

No Yards

I can’t find any conclusive source for the introduction of the Restriction on Offside Player (No Yards) rule, but it certainly seems to have existed since the Burnside rules (it appears the original 1898 Burnside rules called for the receiving player to receive a 10-yard zone from opposition before touching the ball) and likely has it’s origins early in the game. Going hand in hand with the zone surrounding the receiving player the moment the ball was touched was the lack of blocking (interference) by the receiving team on the return. This was changed in 1975, when blocking above the waist was allowed on punt returns.

Prior to 1986, the No Yards rule was 15 yards for all infringements. After years of attempts to have the No Yards rule repealed and replaced with the Fair Catch, coaches finally got a change to the rule instituted in 1986. A clause was added that said a player who is caught in the 5-yard restraining zone due to a ball bouncing back towards the line of scrimmage and in the judgement of the official is actively attempting to withdrawn from the zone shall not be penalized. The rule was further changed in 1989 to penalize a player caught in the 5-yard zone due to a bounce back 5-yards. In 1993 the rule was further changed to a 5-yard penalty for any ball that bounces, no matter the direction. Though the rule has been reworded since then, this is essentially the same rule that exists today.

Straight Football

A style of football called straight football developed with the game before the advent of the forward pass and was employed in Canada through the 1930’s and early 1940’s, quickly falling out of favour after the Second World War as more American influence on our strategy was felt in moving the ball on the ground and through the air.

Straight football involved kicking the ball on first down when the wind was at your back, attempting to gain field position in the exchange of kicks. It was employed by teams when there was a strong wind, but sometimes also used when one team had a kicker who was able to substantially out kick the other team, even on a calm day. Kicking was a much more prevalent way of scoring, and moving the field position through the exchange of kicks may eventually allow for the kick of a single point or put a team in position where they could attempt a kick from placement (field goal). Usually the strong kicker on a team was deployed at halfback, and he would receive the ball from the quarterback and kick the ball from a few yards behind the line of scrimmage. Because of this, blocked kicks also occurred more frequently.

Players would also kick on the run depending on the field position, time of game, score and other factors. For instance, late in a half, a player who had achieved a long run but was not going to advance farther nor had a teammate as an option, may try to kick for a single point. Taking these opportunities was one of the reasons why single points were scored much more frequently in the early days of the game.

Though scoring a touch (touchdown) was worth five points, moving the ball for such a score was considered higher risk and low probability for the reward. Many touches were scored after fumbles or other miscues and the ball was returned near the opposition goal or past the goal line. Besides kicking, there were three types of plays in every team’s arsenal. Plunges through the line may gain a few yards or go for longer gains. Runs outside through laterals, pitchouts and sweeps could also result in long runs. Once introduced in 1929, forward passes were used, but with much more limited success than present day, with teams completing 3-4 passes out of 10-15 attempts. Straight football teams would often not attempt a pass in a game, kicking on first down with the wind and only running the ball against the wind. Turnovers were much more prevalent as well, with fumbles and interceptions reaching 4-5 or more per side per game.

Despite being what we would call a boring strategy, straight football was used because it was successful with the equipment and conditions of its times. Unlike the trap or left-wing lock in hockey, which was introduced after fans had experienced wide-open, offensive hockey, straight football provided entertainment to fans who were used to and enjoyed the kicking game. The exchanges in possession, the chance of a turnover through contact or misplay and the open field it created for longer runs left fans on the edges of their seats for many games. Eventually though, the kicking game became specialized and more emphasis was placed on passing and rushing strategies, leaving straight football a strategy whose time had ended.

Certificate of Completion

Now that you have learned the basics and some history of kicking in Canadian football, why not take on the more advanced Kicking 201?


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Kicking 101 was published on May 29, 2014 9:05 PM by dbo.

3,668 words.

This article is categorized under Game and tagged with kicking and rules.

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