ITP Glossary: Personal Protector

Football is littered with specialized terminology. From punt gunner to 0 technique, commentators and writers rarely get to explain everything you need to know before the next play. Inside The Pylon’s glossary takes you inside part of the game you may be missing.

The personal protector, also known as the upback, is a member of the punt team. He is typically stationed 10 yards in front of the punter, in line with one of the guards. The personal protector is responsible for counting the number of men in the formation, calling out the protection scheme, executing the snap count, blocking for the punter, and releasing downfield to cover the kick. While he has downfield coverage responsibilities, his position behind the line of scrimmage means that he is unlikely to be among the first players to provide coverage against the returner and typically acts as a safety instead.

Personal Protector

The first responsibility of the personal protector is to count to eleven and make sure all his teammates are on the field. Unfortunately, during the Arizona Cardinals’ matchup at the Seattle Seahawks in 2014, the Arizona personal protector forgot how to count, with predictable consequences:


Not pictured are the two punt gunners, which when added to the eight men circled in yellow, clearly makes this a 10-man formation instead of 11. Naturally, Seattle had an easy path to the punter, resulting in a decisive block:


Assuming the personal protector does count correctly, he is then responsible for assigning protection versus the oncoming rushers. Punt teams most often employ zone protection, working from the inside-out to address the most direct route to the punter first:


The personal protector is responsible for determining which way to send the long-snapper in protection, which will then allow the personal protector to fill the gap remaining up the middle. In the event there is a miscommunication, this can result in double-teaming an interior rusher, leaving another player with a free lane to the punter:


With the responsibility of both determining and executing the protection, the personal protector tends to be slower getting downfield than other players on the coverage team, and will typically act in a safety role along with the punter once the kick is away.

The ITP Glossary is curated by Mark Brown. The incomparable Chuck Zodda contributed to this entry.

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Inside The Pylon covers the NFL and college football, reviewing the film, breaking down matchups, and looking at the issues, on and off the field.

All video and images courtesy the NFL and NFL Game Rewind.

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