What Are Gunners in Football? A Special Teams Guide

College football players sprint downfield after a kickoff.

The importance of special teams is often overshadowed in football despite its impact on games. Within special teams, one of the most important but overlooked positions is the gunner.

So, what is a gunner in football?

In football, a gunner is a special teams player who sprints downfield after a punt, aiming to tackle the returner and prevent long returns. Gunners need speed, agility, and tackling skills to excel in their role, often facing one-on-one matchups against blockers.

Gunners play an integral part in stopping big returns and pinning opponents deep on their side of the field. Throughout this article, we’ll go into more detail on what skills gunners need, where they lineup, how many are on a team, and much more. So, make sure to keep reading!

What Is a Gunner in Football?

A gunner in football is a crucial player on the special teams unit. This position is primarily tasked with sprinting down the sidelines during punts and kickoffs in an attempt to tackle the kick returner. 

Their primary goal is to prevent the receiving team from gaining significant yardage on returns, thus affecting field position and potentially the outcome of the game.

As a part of the special teams unit, the gunner is not involved in offensive or defensive plays but plays a vital role in maintaining field position. These players must possess a unique combination of speed, agility, and intelligence, allowing them to evade blockers and quickly reach the returner.

Positioned close to the sidelines during kicking plays, gunners use their speed and skill to bypass the opposing team’s blockers. Their role requires a keen sense of timing and tackling to bring down the returner before they can advance too far downfield.

What Does a Gunner Do in Football?

The main objective of gunners in football is to prevent returners from gaining significant yardage on plays. To be successful in this role, gunners must be fast, agile, and able to shed blockers from the opposing team.

During a punt, once the ball is snapped, the gunner sprints downfield to reach and tackle the returner as quickly as possible. Their speed and agility help them bypass blockers on the opposing team and get to the returner in time.

Depending on the situation, they may force the returner to call a fair catch or immediately tackle them upon catching the ball.

In addition to punt coverage, gunners also have a critical role during kickoffs. Similar to their responsibilities on punts, they focus on reaching the kick returner before they can gain substantial yardage.

Where Do Gunners Line Up?

A high school special teams unit lines up for a kickoff.

Gunners typically line up on the line of scrimmage close to both of the sidelines, with one gunner on each side. This positioning allows them to sprint downfield as soon as the ball is kicked or punted, to reach the returner as fast as possible. 

They must have several techniques to break away or “shed” blockers, as it is common for both gunners to be double-teamed on punts. To counter this strategy, they may need to beat the blockers by moving toward the middle of the field.

On punt coverage, there are two gunners positioned near the sideline. They are the only players allowed to cross the line of scrimmage before the punt occurs. Once the ball is snapped, the gunners sprint downfield to tackle the punt returner or recover the ball themselves, depending on the situation.

In order to be successful, gunners must possess exceptional speed, agility, and tackling skills. Furthermore, they need to be aware of the ball’s trajectory and the returner’s location on the field to make the quickest route toward their target.

What Skills Are Needed As a Gunner?

One of the essential skills for a successful gunner is speed. Gunners must be able to dash down the sidelines quickly, beating blockers and closing the gap between them and the returner. 

Their acceleration and agility allow them to slip past blockers on the opposing team and reach the returner before they can gain too many yards.

Another vital skill for gunners is strength. The position involves plenty of hand fighting and shedding blocks. A taller, lean player with good strength makes an effective gunner, as this build allows them to fight off blocks using their reach while still maintaining enough speed.

Additionally, a gunner must possess excellent situational awareness and the ability to quickly analyze the field. They should be able to assess blockers’ positions and trajectories and find the most effective path to the returner while avoiding getting blocked or slowed down. 

Understanding the dynamics of a play helps ensure that the gunner fulfills their responsibility of applying pressure and executing tackles.

Finally, a gunner should have exceptional tackling skills. It is not enough to simply apply pressure on the returner; they must be able to bring the returner down to the ground and effectively halt the play. This requires not only physical strength but also proper technique and timing.

How Many Gunners Are on a Football Team?

On punt coverage, there are usually two gunners lined up near the sideline. In this situation, they are the only players allowed to cross the line of scrimmage before the punt occurs. Once the ball is snapped, the gunners attempt to get downfield to tackle the punt returner or secure the ball.

During kickoffs, the number of gunners might vary depending on the team’s strategy and the specific players’ skills. However, their primary goal remains consistent – to reach the returner as quickly as possible and prevent a significant return. 

Each football team has its own approach to utilizing gunners, contingent on the special teams coordinator’s strategy and the available athletes on the roster.

What Is a Jammer in Football?

A jammer in football is a type of cornerback whose primary role is on special teams. Their objective is to slow down gunners on punts and kickoffs, preventing them from getting a free release, which in turn provides punt returners with more time to return punts.

When defending against a punt or a kickoff, jammers are typically positioned near the line of scrimmage. Jammers employ various techniques, such as blocking and positioning, to impede the gunners’ progress downfield.

In some cases, a team may assign two jammers to a single gunner. This strategy is employed when a gunner is particularly fast or skilled at eluding blocks. By doubling up the jammers, football teams increase their chances of successfully impeding the gunner and giving the returner more time to make a play.

It is worth noting that jammers usually serve as backups for other positions and are not dedicated solely to this role. The term “jammer” is also relatively uncommon within the football community, though the position remains a crucial component of successful special teams play.

Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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