Editor's note: ESPN's Bob Davie hit the road this spring to check out some of the country's most innovative schemes and coaches. This free Insider preview is the first installment of his five-part spring tour.
Nothing changes the momentum of a football game like a blocked kick. That's why my first stop this spring is to the University of Texas to visit with coach Duane Akina and study how the Longhorns block punts.
In 2005, the Horns blocked nine kicks, including six punts, on the road to the national championship. Four of those punt blocks came against Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, teams that use the new shield punt protections. It's no coincidence that in Akina's five years at Texas, the Horns have blocked 43 kicks, the most in the nation over that time.
Akina, who is also the co-defensive coordinator, has done a great job creating a tradition at Texas. The punt return and block teams are called "the posse." Akina has created a culture in which the players think it's cool to be in this group, and he's done a variety of things to make it different.
1. Point system
Akina set up a point system similar to a hotel's reward system. Players receive points for blocked kicks, punt returns and great effort. They are members of the Silver, Gold or Platinum club based on their overall point production.
2. Use talented players
Akina uses the best players on special teams. It doesn't matter whether they primarily play offense or defense. Players such as Quentin Jammer, Roy Williams, Derrick Johnson and Nathan Vasher have all been members of the posse in the past, and look for RB Jamaal Charles to be on the team this fall.
3. Attack philosophy
The basic philosophy is to pressure the punter and come after every kick. Opponents must protect first, and this often leads to punt return opportunities when Texas has the return called. The Horns finished sixth in the country in punt returns in 2005 (15.6 yards per return). Everything they do looks like a punt block, and there's an illusion that Texas will try to block the kick.
4. Simple system
By having a simple system, Texas plays fast and the players have great confidence in the scheme.
Shield Punt Protection
Many teams across the country have gone to shield punt protection. This is a punt protection in which three deep punt protectors are lined up in front of the punter to create a shield. Because of this shield, the punt team takes big splits up front between the frontline players, who do not drop set or vertical set to get depth (3 yards) off the line of scrimmage like conventional punt teams. This allows the front wall to immediately get into coverage. Protection is the responsibility of the shield, which has limited punt coverage responsibility.
Shield punt protection
Launch play breakdown
As with any new trend, teams catch up with it, and the shield punt protection is now being attacked. Texas blocked three punts against Oklahoma State and one against Texas A&M last year. Akina came up with some unique ideas to attack the protection.
1. Change personnel
Because shield punt protection leaves a lot of space inside with big splits between linemen, teams come after it right up the middle. To put pressure on the shield, Texas would insert 315-pound offensive guard Kasey Studdard, 325-pound DT Frank Okam and 280-pound DT Derek Lokey in the game. Other teams use smaller linebackers and defensive backs on punt teams, but not Texas.
2. Assault the shield
Akina came up with a simple philosophy of attacking the shield and driving it back into the punter. He made it a challenge to intimidate the shield protectors and held tryouts to see which Longhorns players could be the most aggressive.
Inside punt block
Launch play breakdown
When Texas A&M changed its shield protection and blocked down on the four inside rushers against Texas in 2005, the Longhorns came with an all-out punt block. Michael Griffin beat the end and blocked the punt from the outside.
Outside punt block
Launch play breakdown
Give Texas and Akina a lot of credit for changing personnel and coming up with a plan to attack the new shield punt protection. It may seem that our first stop this spring involves special teams, but nothing can change the outcome of a game or a season like a blocked kick. It was a big part of why Texas won the national championship last season.
Editor's note: As architect of Texas A&M's Wrecking Crew defense (1989-93), Notre Dame's defensive coordinator (1994-96) and head coach (1997-2001), Bob Davie has been recognized as a top X's and O's coach. Davie will analyze five schemes as part of his spring course on football for ESPN.com.