As far as I know, players on the special teams (except the kicker, punter and long snapper) are offensive or defensive (backup) players, due to the limited number of players on the active roster. What is the "main" position of the players on the field at kickoff?

For the kicking team there's obviously a kicker on the field, but what is the "main" position of the other 10 players? They need to be fast and tackle well.

For the receiving team the returner is usually a WR, a CB or even a RB, but what about the other players? They should be able to block for the returner, but I guess the best blocking players (offensive line) are too slow...

I also heard during a game that for onside kicks the kicking team may send a "hands team" to the field - how much they differ from the "regular" kicking or receiving team? Sending the "hands team" on field doesn't tell the opponent "we're going to onside kick, prepare for it"?


1 Answer 1


Typically, you just hear those players on the kicking team referred to as the special teams unit, but there is an unofficial name that is used for those who run down the field to tackle the returner.


In American football, a gunner, also known as a shooter, flyer, headhunter, or kamikaze, is a player on kickoffs and punts who specializes in running down the sideline very quickly in an attempt to tackle the kick or punt returner. Gunners must have several techniques in order to break away or "shed" blockers, and have good agility in order to change their running direction quickly. Gunners on the punt team also must be able to block or catch.

Gunners typically also play positions as defensive backs, wide receivers, or running back when not on special teams, often as backups.

There's also a specialized role for the player who is specifically tasked with blowing up the blocking on the return.

Wedge Buster

Tom Powers of Minnesota's Pioneer Press recently highlighted a football position he says is a "you can't pay me enough to do that" job. It's the "wedge buster" - the player who runs down the field after a kickoff and attempts to break through the human wedge a return team builds to block the player returning the ball. "It is the worst job on the football field," Mr. Powers writes. "And a guy has to be exceptionally screwy to be able to do it properly." Heath Farwell, a wedge buster for the Minnesota Vikings, explains: "There's 300-pound guys back there and you're taking on three or four of them, trying to break everybody up. I've seen guys get concussions, get knocked out." Though many, like fellow wedge buster Vinny Ciurciu, have a taste for the work. "Some guys love to blow up the wedge." Hey, it beats working in Scotland.

As far as the return team, there are a few terms used to refer to the blockers as well.


During a kickoff, every player on the return team is called an "upman" with the exception of the one or two designated kickoff returners, who stand furthest away from the starting point of the kicking team.

For punt returns, another term is used.


In American football, jammers try to slow down gunners during punts by preventing them from getting a free release, giving punt returners more time to return punts. A jammer is typically played by a back-up for another position. This position is usually referred to simply as a special teamer, or even a gunner.

  • FYI, the "wedge buster" would not apply in the NFL anymore. Wedges were restricted to 2 players in 2009 and were made completely illegal in 2018. sbnation.com/2018/5/22/17369774/… And though your source for that one was posted last year, the quotes are not recent. Heath Farwell, the "Vikings wedge buster" was cut by the team 8 years ago. And Tom Powers has been retired for a while and stopped contributing to the Pioneer Press back in 2017.
    – kuhl
    Sep 7, 2019 at 3:40

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