Special teams are units that are on the field during kicking plays. While many players who appear on offensive or defensive squads also play similar roles on special teams (offensive linemen to block, or defensive players to tackle) there are some specialist roles which are unique to the kicking game. This is where some of the most exciting plays of the game happen. So watch these guys.
Handles kickoffs and field goal attempts. Both situations require the kicker to kick the ball off of the ground, either from the hands of a “holder” or off of a tee. Some teams will employ two kickers, one for each role. Most however use a single kicker for both jobs, and rarely, the same player may also punt.
As the name implies, holds the ball for the placekicker to kick. The holder is often a backup quarterback or a punter.
Long Snapper (LS)
A specialized center who snaps the ball directly to the holder or punter. This player is usually distinct from the regular center, as the ball often has to be snapped much farther back on kicking plays.
Punting requires the player to drop the ball from their hand and kick it from the air. Unlike the kicker who kicks off the ground. Punting is usually only done on fourth down, so the ball goes to the other team.
Punt Returner (PR) and Kick Returner (KR)
Returners are responsible for catching kicked balls (either on kickoffs or punts) and running the ball back. These are usually the fastest players on a team. Teams may use the same player for both positions, or may have a separate returner for punts and for kickoffs.
A blocking back who lines up approximately 1-3 yards behind the line of scrimmage in punting situations. Because the punter plays so far back, the Upback frequently makes the line calls and calls for the snap to be received by the punter. Their primary role is to act as the last line of defense for the punter. Upbacks may occasionally receive the snap instead of the punter on fake punts.
A player on kickoffs and punts who specializes in running down the field very quickly in an attempt to tackle the kick returner or the punt returner. They usually line up near the sidelines where there will be fewer blockers and thus allow them to get down the field quickly.
These guys can make or break the game. Runbacks for TDs, blocked punts, fakes for the first down. This is where the football game has the most room for creativity.