“So, you’re a kicker?”
I get so many different variations of this question when telling people I’m a college long snapper at the University of Rhode Island and explaining what exactly it is I do.
Long snapping is one of the biggest obscurities in the game of football. Many fans are unfamiliar with the position or what their role is on a football team.
It’s not often that we notice the snap of the ball on fourth down, or what a long snapper does afterward. With the success rate of snappers, it is almost assumed the ball will get to the punter or holder without any issues. It’s not until someone messes up that our attention is drawn to the play.
That is why, as part of our ‘Summer School’ series, we will be taking a deep dive into the life of a long snapper to better appreciate what they do. I’ve played three years at the Division I FCS level and coached a ton of high school athletes. Now I get to pass my knowledge along to you.
Snapping on punts is how every long snapper earns their money. All long snappers are expected to deliver the ball to the punter with accuracy and consistency. The slightest error can disrupt the whole operation.
In the NFL and college football, the full punt snap ranges from 14.5 to 15 yards depending on the punter’s preference. Typically what impacts this is a punter’s steps, and how much room he needs to go through a full swing. The snapper’s goal each time is for the ball to travel that distance in under 0.7 seconds.
Long snappers are expected to be deadly accurate at that distance. On any special teams play there is no margin for error, meaning snappers must place the ball in the same location every single time. More specifically, punters rely on the ball being caught at their right or left hip depending on their dominant leg.
Opposing teams intentionally use their fastest players on the outside edge of the punt formation with the intention of blocking punts. Because of this, if anything — like where the snap goes — disrupts the timing of the punter by even a millisecond, a punt can get blocked.
This level of consistency goes further than just ball placement and speed. In order to have a good snap, long snappers need to maintain the same form and technique. Every part of the snapper’s body must move at the same exact time in one fluid motion. A common misconception when it comes to long snapping is that it only uses a player’s upper body. In reality the main focal points are a snapper’s hips, hands, and head. Overall, a majority of the power from a snap is generated from the hips and legs.
Here, Giants long snapper Zak DeOssie simultaneously uses his lower and upper body to snap the ball before quickly popping back up to block. As you may notice, his snap drifts slightly to the left. This is enough to rush punter Riley Dixon and direct his steps back towards the middle of the punt formation.
Blocking and punt coverage
While the quality of the snap is always a snapper’s first priority, there are still other obligations on fourth down. As soon as the ball is released, a long snapper’s next moves are to block oncoming rushers and transition to chasing down the punt returner.
Blocking steps for long snappers on punts are similar to that of an offensive lineman on a pass play. Snappers will take three to four quick steps back to gain depth. They are then responsible for picking up an oncoming rusher for a few brief seconds. This type of block is not intended to drive anyone upfield or directionally away from the punter. A snapper’s goal is to stay in front of their man and hold them off until the ball is punted.
Once the ball is kicked, the whole punt unit shifts from offense to defense. Like all of the players on the line of scrimmage, snappers flip from blocking to shedding an opposing blocker.
On this play, we can see how a fourth down fully pans out for DeOssie. After snapping the ball, he shuffles back to pick up pressure. He then quickly transitions to cover completely untouched down the middle of the field. While he lunges and misses the tackle, it’s enough to slow down the returner and allow his teammates to make the play.
Snapping for field goals and point after attempts is a completely different process compared to punts. Instead of the daunting 15 yards, field goal snaps are 7 to 8 yards.
This distance is impacted by ball rotations. In order for a kicker to hit his best ball, he must have the laces facing away. Many assume that it is the holder’s responsibility to rotate the ball so the laces are out. While holders do adjust the ball before it is kicked, good long snappers can snap the ball so when it caught the laces are already facing out.
Since the distance is half that of a punt. a short snap does not use the same form. Long snappers will typically widen their stances and use mostly their upper body to direct the ball. Speed is significantly less of a priority on the short snap. Instead, the ball has to be exactly in the correct spot or the kicker can mishit the ball.
Snappers also need to block on short snaps. In this case, all they are asked to do is jut their arms out to take up space and slow down the path of the defenders in the A gaps.
In this instance, DeOssie cleanly delivers laces to Dixon so he doesn’t have to spin the ball before Aldrick Rosas kicks it. Upon release, he gets big to prevent the meaty defensive tackles from sliding past him.
In this rare occasion, because it is such a long field goal, DeOssie has to run down to cover a returner. Opposing teams send out kick returners in these scenarios in case the kick is short and returnable.
Snappers can do trick shots, too. Yes, this is our author with one of his own.