Back in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000, it was almost a given for NFL punters. Aim the punt as close to the pylon and make sure the football sails out of bounds. Then watch the official run up the sideline as if he had some scientific method to determine exactly when the ball actually crossed the out-of-bounds line while in the air. Oakland Raiders punter Ray Guy mastered the ‘coffin corner’ punt. New Orleans Saints punter Thomas Morstead was probably the last guy to use it, but it’s now become extinct. Why?
One theory why the coffin corner isn’t used anymore
Coffin-corner punts were used mainly to prevent long punt returns. It was a way to try and pin the opponent deep inside its own territory. Punters would kick the ball directly out of bounds or kick it in the corner and watch it bounce out of bounds. Rarely, if ever, does a punter kick the ball out of bounds anymore. What’s the reason for that? Is it because the punting team is hoping for a turnover? Whatever the reason, coffin-corner kicks began to fade in the early 2000s.
Steve Hoffman, a special teams coach with the Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons, and Miami Dolphins said back in 2007 that the speed of the players then was a factor. “To be really accurate with a coffin-corner kick, you have to drop the ball lower, so it’s not floating in the air before it hits the foot,” Steve Hoffman told ESPN in 2007. “The problem is, when it comes off the foot low like that, you risk getting it blocked if there’s pressure off the edges.”
Hoffman also said it’s not so easy to punt the ball out of bounds, especially in inclement weather. “People don’t realize how hard it is to kick the ball out of bounds,” said Hoffman. “Say we’re punting and the wind is blowing with you, across your left shoulder to your right a little bit. That would be the easiest way to punt. By the time it goes 50 yards down the field and the wind has affected it, it might blow all the way to the middle of the field.”
Ray Guy doesn’t understand why the coffin corner is no longer used
Ray Guy is the lone punter inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Guy, inducted into the Hall in 2014, was a master at the coffin corner. In a 2011 article on NOLA.com, Guy struggled to figure out why the art of the coffin corner was no longer used.
“You tell me, I would like to know,” said Guy. “I still say it’s the best doggone weapon. I’ve heard numerous things, but in the modern world, I think sometimes they take simple things and make them more complicated than they really are.
“I guess you might want to take a chance the guy would try to catch it and drop it, but when you hang it up there and think you can just drop it, more times than not it’ll go into the end zone. And then these ‘gunners,’ as they call them, they try to get it so close they often wind up with their foot on the goal line — touchback. I want the sure thing. If I can get that ball as tight as I can toward the corner, my chances are greater, and I don’t have to worry about a guy running it back.”
Thomas Morstead is likely the last guy to use the coffin corner
Thomas Morstead, a punter drafted in the fifth round of the 2009 NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints, is still going strong. Morstead is still pinning teams deep in their own territory but isn’t necessarily using the coffin corner to do so. He did use one in the season opener last year against the Houston Texans, but he’s definitely in the minority among punters.
Morstead told NOLA.com back in 201 that the stadium has a lot to do with whether he’ll use the coffin corner or not. “We don’t have that many games where it’s windy, outdoors,” he said. “I don’t know anybody who can truthfully say he can control whether it bounces backward or forward. I prefer to do it, outdoors, I prefer to do it with the wind and I know one thing: It’s a confidence thing. You have to hit a spiral and just let the wind kind of take it.
“Sometimes, let’s say you’re punting indoors and you’ve got an overload on one side, you have to punt the other side and you’re on the hash? That’s a really skinny window, if you’re talking about an angle like that, a very small margin of error. When you play outdoors, when I play outdoors and it’s windy, I prefer to do that — and I have done that. When we played at Carolina my rookie year and we sat everybody? I punted like nine times. We ended up with seven punts inside the 20 that game.”