For those who have read Malcom Gladwell’s ‘Outliers’ (and even those who haven’t) you have heard about the ‘10,000-hour rule.’ The idea that mastery of a specific discipline will take a certain amount of hours. The mastery of the long snapping duties in American Football is a discipline that is seriously lacking.
During the first week of the NFL season the Oakland Raiders lost a game to the San Diego Chargers in part because of poor long snaps to the punter. The Raiders normal long snapper left the game after suffering a concussion. The back up long snapper Travis Goethel came in and rolled two balls to future Hall of Fame punter Shane Lechler and delivered another high and the punt was eventually blocked. The next day the Raiders were flying in potential replacements.
Long snapping is such a specific task that the University of Alabama offered a scholarship to Cole Mazza specifically for his long snapping skill. This is the first time Nick Saban, who has won three National Championships in the last decade, has offered a scholarship specifically to a long snapper. Two time Pro Bowler Brian Jennings of the San Francisco 49ers now has an off season camp to teach the mastery of long snapping.
In the modern era of football you’re seeing a lot of overlap. Wide receivers are lining up as running backs, quarterbacks are their teams best running threats and defensive lineman are coming in as extra blockers on offense. Specialization is being lost in the modern football game except for a few positions and the long snapper is one of those positions.
It’s one of those positions that you do not notice until you do not have it. When the you lose the regular long snapper the timing is off. You saw this with the Raiders. You’re even seeing it in the Collegiate ranks. More kicks are being missed and while the long snapper cannot take all the blame for the missed kicks, if the timing is off or the snap is too high or too low the odds of the punter or kicker failing at their job goes up. The odds of the other team being able to block the kick also goes up.
Some coaches have even toyed with the idea of not punting at all. This past summer San Diego State Head Coach Rocky Long through out the idea based on statistical analysis. He also probably didn’t have reliable punters or kickers or long snappers. Long didn’t jump head first into the idea probably because he knows how vital a punter or kicker can be. Punters like Lechler can change a game by changing field position. He can pin an opposing offense against their goal line and open up opportunites for his teams defense. If you don’t have a solid long snapper to get people like Lechler the ball then you can have a major shift in momentum or even give up a score like what happened to the Raiders.
Think about how important a solid special teams play can be in the Collegiate ranks. If the long snapper snaps the ball over the punters head and is then recovered by the other team. Think about the psychological factor of that with a 19 year old. One minute the confidence is on one sideline and after a bad snap the momentum swings over to the other sideline.
While you’ll continue to see more and more multi-positional players come into the game of football you may start to see the development of a long snappers with the ‘10,000- hour rule’ fully intact.