If during a kick-off, for example at the beginning of a half or after a score, the kicker totally misses the ball when he goes to kick, what happens? Would it be a penalty for delay of game?

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    The coach picks him off the pitch to sober up. Really hard to imagine this kind of situation honestly.
    – Don_Biglia
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 15:58
  • @Don_Biglia this could happen if conditions were extremely icy and the kicker slips as they set to make the kick Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 16:00
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    @Jonathan.Brink Out of interest, are you aware of a single instance when this has happened in the NFL? (post-merger, for preference. I can imagine a lot of funny things happening in the 1920s).
    – Philip Kendall
    Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 8:42
  • @PhilipKendall I am not...but would be surprised if this has never happened even once since 1920... Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 12:39
  • I've definitely seen it in high school (I was pulled up from JV to Varsity, and I was the JV kicker, and the Varsity kicker whiffed in a playoff game... was a little bummed when Coach didn't send me out there, especially since I had a better leg!) In the NFL, either outcome would surprise me - they're usually pretty good, but then again we're talking about a long time for something wonky to occur.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 23:05

4 Answers 4


First there is not a designated kicker. Just because there is a little twerp in a #3 jersey doesn't make him a kicker. If you look in Greg's answer that copies Article 1 discussing the free kick you will see that only the kicker can be more than 5 yards beyond the kickoff line.

This was put in recently for player safety. Guys would line up 10-15 yards behind and be at full sprint when leaving. Guys were getting hurt and too much advantage for kickoff team.

Any player can kick the ball.

Let's say that there is a "normal" kickoff formation 5-1-5 with the "1" deep. Let's say the "1" doesn't kick the ball but someone else does. Illegal formation on the "1" - receiving team takes the ball +5 yards or rekick minus 5 yards. That's why on a lot of onside kick plays you see in the NFL, everyone is within 5 yards of the ball.

Next let's talk about the kicker whiffing. If the kicker misses the ball totally without the ball being removed from the tee it really depends where his kicking foot is.

  • Let's say the kicker plants 1 yard early and misses. He is free to try to kick the ball again. In reality someone on his team would have crossed the line of scrimmage and there would be an offsides penalty. But if this were "designed" the kicker is fully eligible to take as many swings as needed - this isn't golf. In the NFL there is a play clock enabled on official "OK" whistle. That is the only thing standing in the way.

  • Let's say kicker plants normal, feels twinge in his leg and slowly tries to execute kick but misses on purpose knowing kick isn't going anywhere. Let's say plant foot is over the line and foot never reaches the ball. Can the kicker back up and rekick? I think the NFL rules committee minds would blow up! This just simply isn't in the rulebook. Can he back up after his plant foot is beyond the line? I would tend to say no but it is not in the rulebook or any use cases I have ever seen and I have read through more than a 100 use cases from pee-wee to NFL level (I find the trivia in the use cases fascinating). I don't think it would ever ever come up in reality because the kicking team members would jump offsides during a whiff - I could never think of a case where this would happen. If the team didn't jump and the kicker retreated to kick again... well I wouldn't fault the official for not calling anything.

  • Same scenario as above - kicker plants on line or past, kicker misses kick but does not cross line or hit ball with kicking foot. Then kicker keeps plant foot where it is and "rekicks". I find this perfectly within the rules as mentioned in Article 1. The kicker just has to worry about the play clock. Again let's ignore that the other 10 players would have jumped. The kicker at this point would be better off taking an offsides penalty and in all cases a coach would rather a kicker be offsides versus kicking the ball with no run up or even step.

  • Same scenario again - except this time kicker plants anywhere and kicking foot misses the ball, but this time when the kicker misses "high" his foot clearly goes past the kicking line. This is clearly offsides as illustrated in Article 1.

I have seen a couple of "fake kickoff kicks" at the high school level but can't remember one in the NFL (please comment if someone remembers one). Basically kicker runs up and swings but a yard short, team runs hard to line but stops, member near kicker onside kicks as the opposing front line is retreating, team goes past line on kick and recovers ball. I have seen it done at least 5 times. I think 2 of the times there was an offsides and the other 3 were VERY successful.

At the NFL level this play could not only work but you could easily practice moving into a full squib if the return front line didn't retreat. You have a ton of time to do whatever during kickoff so you could show a couple looks and still do a semi-normal kick.

To summarize:

There is no kicker until someone tries to strike the ball and really there is no defined kicker unless someone put a plant foot on the kickoff line. Anyone can act like they are kicking the ball. If that person has plant foot and kicking foot across the kickoff line then he is offsides. So therefore you can logically deduce that the kicker is either the first person to put a foot on the kickoff line or the first person to strike the ball and once the second member of a team puts their plant foot on the line before the kick is being made, they are offsides.

From an infraction standpoint the idea of settling this sort of rule by the rules committee would be moot. The coaches in all cases would rather just take a 5 yard penalty. We are discussing refs not calling a penalty on a team when a coach would clearly want it called. I can only imagine this happening and not called as kicker takes second swing and muffs it 15 yards and kicking team going crazy on the ref.

  • What do you consider a "fake kickoff kick"? I remember Matt Bahr faking a kick with his right foot while (intentionally) contacting the ball with his left foot during an onside kick. It was similar to what you sometimes see soccer players do to fool the opposition (and I believe he had played soccer in college).
    – GreenMatt
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 19:29

This isn't clearly stated in the rulebook. This differs from some high school rulesets, from my understanding (though I'm not a high school expert); some of those do have explicit rules for this happening (as I expect it happens more often).

In the NFL, all of the rules are based on "when the ball is kicked", such as in 6.1.2:

All kicking team players must be inbounds and behind the ball when it is kicked, except:

the holder of a placekick (3-18-1-Item 2) may be beyond the line, and the kicker may be beyond the line, provided that his kicking foot is not beyond the line.

The only time I've seen this in live game action is when the ball blows or falls off the tee, in which case the kicker is welcome to re-set it, and after a second time would have a holder hold it (rule 6.1.1).

In some rulesets, this might be determined as off-sides or encroachment if the kicking team has any member other than the kicker (or holder) beyond the restraining line (i.e., the ball). The NFL rules don't seem to support this, though; they don't have any allowance for this, suggesting it's probably handled similarly to if the ball falls off the tee.

  • good point about the ball blowing off the tee...perhaps since that is not a penalty that similar precedent would apply here (basically get a do-over) Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 13:18
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    This isn't right. If you find some old NFL use cases the kicker quits being the kicker after he runs past the ball. He is just offsides. At all levels. Do you really think the kicker can just run off downfield with no punishment?
    – Coach-D
    Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 6:31
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    @Coach-D I have no idea what happens if he just misses the ball: that's why I said that. It is not clearly defined in the rulebook. I do think that the kicker is still the kicker at the point of kicking - there is after all a specific rule mentioning him not being offside at that point. And if he runs past the ball without kicking... sure, if he runs 20 yards downfield, the ref probably throws a flag for something. But if he runs past by just a bit, then backs up, everyone resets, and tries again?
    – Joe
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 18:40

On a free kick (kick off or safety kick) the ball must be kicked to start the play. No player can be in front of the kicker until the ball is kicked. So if a kicker misses the ball, the play has not started. If his players do not notice and run in front of him, then the play would be offsides.


ARTICLE 1. FREE KICK A free kick is a kickoff or safety kick that puts the ball in play to start a free kick down. It must be made from any point on the kicking (offensive) team’s restraining line and between the inbounds lines.

A kickoff puts the ball in play at the start of each half, after a try, and after a successful field goal. A dropkick or placekick may be used for a kickoff. Note: During a placekick on a kickoff, the kicking team may use a manufactured tee that is one inch in height and approved by the League. Once the ball has been placed on the kicking tee, the kicking tee cannot be moved. If the ball falls off the tee, or the tee is moved, the covering officials must stop play and restart the timing process without penalty to the kicking team. If the ball falls off the tee a second time during the same free kick down, the kicking team then must either use a player to hold the ball or must kick it off the ground. The ball may be placed on the ground leaning against the tee, provided the tee is in its normal upright position. A safety kick puts the ball in play after a safety. A dropkick, placekick, or punt may be used for a safety kick. A tee cannot be used for a safety kick.

When the ball is kicked on a free kick down:

After the ball has been made ready for play, all kicking team (Team A) players other than the kicker must be lined up no more than five yards behind their restraining line; and All kicking team players must be inbounds and behind the ball when it is kicked, except: the holder of a placekick (3-18-1-Item 2) may be beyond the line, and the kicker may be beyond the line, provided that his kicking foot is not beyond the line. At least four players of the kicking team must be on each side of the ball. At least three players must be lined up outside each inbounds line, one of whom must be outside the yard-line number. Note: A holder for a free kick counts as one of the required four players, regardless of where he is positioned. All receiving team (Team B) players must be inbounds and behind their restraining line until the ball is kicked. Penalty: For a player being beyond the restraining line when the ball is kicked (offside), a player being out of bounds when the ball is kicked, a kicking team player other than the kicker being more than five yards behind his restraining line, or the kicking team being in an illegal formation when the ball is kicked: Loss of five yards.

ARTICLE 6. END OF FREE KICK A free kick ends when either team possesses the ball, or when the ball is dead, if that precedes possession. A running play begins when the receiving team establishes possession of the ball.

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    I don't think this answers the question any differently from mine: it references exactly the same rule, and I don't really see how it's clear from this wording what would happen. In any event, if you're going to quote reference material, please source it and quote it (see my answer for an example).
    – Joe
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 18:38

Mike Clark of the Dallas Cowboys did this very thing. Can’t remember the year exactly but probably in the late ‘60’s. Dallas had scored and was kicking off and completely missed the ball. And Coach is right. All the official did was penalize Dallas 5 yds for offsides. He was able to re kick the ball. I believe the opponent was the St Louis Cardinals.

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