Today we revisit football’s kicking game with an explanation of the difference between a “kick from scrimmage” and a “free kick.” You won’t hear these terms often when you watch games on television, but they are terms you should understand. I’ll be mentioning them occasionally in other lessons, plus you may have the chance to use your knowledge to impress people at a bar or office party one day.
A “kick from scrimmage” is just what it sounds like: a kick that occurs when the ball is snapped by the center from the line of scrimmage (LOS). Kicks from scrimmage occur as punts and field goal attempts and must be kicked from behind the LOS. These are just like any other plays run by the offense; the offensive and defensive lines face each other on the LOS with only the length of the football separating them. Therefore, at the snap of the ball, the defense will rush the offense trying to put pressure on the kicker before he can get the kick off.
A “free kick,” on the other hand, is one that does not take place on the LOS, but instead from a spot on the field that is ten yards away from the opposing team. Not only are the teams separated by significant yardage, but the defense is not allowed to rush toward the kicker until after the ball has been kicked. Free kicks occur on kickoffs, kickoffs after a safety and fair catch kicks. Think of the word “free” as referring to the kicker’s ability to kick the ball free from pressure by the defense.
A very rare type of kick is the drop kick, which occurs when the kicker drops the ball to the ground in front of him and kicks it after it bounces. These can be done as a free kick after a safety or in a kick from scrimmage, like the following famous example:
This drop kick was made by former quarterback Doug Flutie to score the extra point for the Patriots after a touchdown in the last game of the 2005 season. Flutie, at 43, was the backup QB behind Tom Brady and this historic kick was the last play of his career.
The last time a drop kick had been made before Flutie’s was over sixty years earlier, in 1941. Why are drop kicks so rare? They are very difficult. Back in the day (waaaay back), footballs were rounder than they are now. When the dimensions were changed in the 1930’s, the pointier shape made it more difficult to control how a football bounced, so the maneuver fell out of style. There were a few players who had made the drop kick look routine, like Jim Thorpe (retired in 1928) and Paddy Driscoll (retired in 1929). Driscoll actually made four field goals in one game in 1925 with drop kicks—one of them from 50 yards!
Again, the drop kick won’t come up in your daily football life, but one day it might help you get through an awkward conversation.