American football is a popular sport that has captured the hearts and minds of millions of fans around the world. The National Football League (NFL) is the premier professional football league in the United States and has become a cultural phenomenon in its own right.

The NFL is made up of 32 teams that compete against each other for the right to be crowned Super Bowl champions each season. In order to achieve this lofty goal, teams must have a combination of talented players who specialize in different positions on the field.

One of these positions is the gunner, which plays an important role in the game of football.

A gunner is a player on the special teams unit that is responsible for covering punts and kickoffs. The gunner, in football, is a special teamer position along with a kicker, punter and kick returner.

The gunner lines up on either side of the long snapper, close to the sideline and is tasked with getting down the field as quickly as possible to tackle the returner or down the ball inside the opponent's 10-yard line. This is a critical role on special teams, as a good gunner can drastically alter the field position battle and give their team an advantage.

Gunners typically also play positions as defensive backs, who are already known for their speed and tackling ability.

What are their responsibilities?

In American football, the term "gunner" typically refers to a player on the special teams unit responsible for downing the ball on punts or kickoffs. The main responsibilities of a gunner include:

  • Getting downfield quickly: The gunner's primary responsibility is to sprint downfield as quickly as possible to get in position to hinder the return team in some way, whether that is tackling the punt returner or downing the ball as close to the goal line as possible.

  • Beating the opposing team's coverage: The gunner needs to be able to get past the opposing player assigned to block the gunner of the punting team, often by using their speed and agility to manoeuvre around them.

  • Tackling the punt returner: If the punt returner catches the ball, the gunner needs to be able to quickly close in and tackle them before they have a chance to gain significant yardage.

  • Forcing fair catches: A gunner can also be effective by making the punt returner call for a fair catch, preventing them from running with the ball.

What makes a great gunner?

A great gunner must possess several key qualities, including:

  • Speed and agility: Gunners must be quick and agile to outrun the opposing team's coverage players and make it downfield to the returner of the receiving team.

  • Strength and physicality: Gunners must be strong and physical enough to engage with blockers and fight through contact once the ball is snapped to get to the returner.

  • Technique: Gunners must have good technique when it comes to shedding blocks, getting off the line of scrimmage, and tackling.

  • Awareness: Gunners must be able to read the play and make quick decisions about how to react and adjust to the situation.

  • Mental toughness: Gunners must have a high level of mental toughness, as they often face physical and mental challenges on every play.

Famous NFL gunners

Though the position sometimes goes unnoticed, we thought we'd mention some of the top gunners in NFL history.

  • Steve Tasker - Tasker played for the Buffalo Bills from 1986 to 1997 and is widely regarded as one of the best special teams players in NFL history. Tasker, a 7-time Pro Bowler, was named to the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1990s.

  • Matthew Slater - Slater has played for the New England Patriots since 2008 and is one of the best gunners in the NFL today. He has been named to the Pro Bowl nine times and has been named a First-Team All-Pro six times.

  • Bill Bates - Bates as a five-time Pro Bowler and was named to the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1980s. Bates was known for his hard-hitting style of play and was one of the best gunners of his era.

  • Larry Izzo - Izzo was a standout gunner and made countless big plays on special teams throughout his career, becoming a three-time Pro Bowler and winning three Super Bowls with the Patriots.