Palmer: The long and short of long snapping

Jesse Palmer
10/28/2008 12:22:45 PM
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Bad Snaps

Do you know who Greg Warren is?  He's the starting long snapper for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  In Sunday's 21-14 loss at home to the New York Giants, Warren was forced to leave the game with a knee injury in the third quarter, and because of that, the Steelers probably lost the game.  That's right, because of an injury to the long snapper.

James Harrison normally plays linebacker for the Steelers, but he is also the backup long snapper.  Forced into action, Harrison made a critical mistake in the fourth quarter, as he sailed a snap over punter Mitch Berger's head for a safety, tying the game up at 14 apiece.  To make matters worse, the Giants would score the go ahead touchdown on the ensuing drive. 

Steelers fans must have been pulling their hair out watching the back up long snapper fail to execute the snap, a fundamental concept that all fans take for granted. 

As I was watching this game, I began thinking back to my playing days, and tried recalling how often backup special teamers were able to hone their skills in practice.  Honestly, I don't remember back up long snappers ever getting many reps on any given practice with their respective starting special teams units. 

I was our back up holder for a few years with the Giants, and I needed to either get my holding work in before practice, or during break periods with the long snappers.  There is not very much time dedicated to special teams during the week of practice, so when those precious few reps take place, the coaches invariably want the starters in at all times.  That means as a backup long snapper, you need to get your work in at other moments in practice and I remember this being a difficult thing to do because position coaches always want to talk with their players and go over the game plan during break periods. 

Getting out onto the field early is difficult, too, as players don't get very much time for taping when meetings are finished.  Players normally have 15 minutes or so to finish meeting, and get dressed and taped before getting on the practice field. 

For all of these reasons, it may have been hard for James Harrison to get the required reps that he needs in practice in order to compete successfully during games.  At the end of the day, though, these guys are all professionals and they are expected to do what's necessary so that they are ready to go come kickoff. 

Harrison's mistake Sunday opened the door just enough for the New York Giants to get through.  It's amazing how sometimes the smallest detail like a long snap on a punt can be the deciding factor in whether a team wins or loses a game.

Rookie Raven Flying High

Joe Flacco did it all against the Oakland Raiders this past weekend.  The Baltimore Ravens rookie quarterback threw for a touchdown and ran for another, but the Raiders could have never expected that he would catch a pass!  Not only did Flacco catch a pass, it was a beauty - a 43 yard wheel route thrown by Troy Smith down the left sideline to put the Ravens in scoring position. 

Do you ever wonder what goes on in the mind of a quarterback when the tables are turned and the ball is actually being thrown to him?  At the University of Florida, head coach Steve Spurrier always had trick plays designed to be thrown to the quarterback.  We would practice these plays each and every week and have them ready for game time.  Spurrier was not shy at all and would often call them in games, much to the surprise of our opponents. 

Believe it or not, when running routes, quarterbacks aren't concerned about getting their heads knocked off, because these trick plays generally allow the QB to be out in space somewhere on the field where there are not any defenders.  Throwback plays to the quarterback normally involve some type of misdirection, allowing the QB to get wide open, or matched up one on one with a single player. 

The biggest fear a quarterback has, obviously, is dropping the ball!  You always see quarterbacks get so frustrated and animated when wide receivers drop passes, and if you are going to hold receivers to a certain standard, than as a quarterback you have to hold yourself to the same standard. 

What's funny is that quarterbacks will try and set good examples for wide receivers when getting the ball thrown to them.  If the throw is short, and it's going to be a jump ball situation, the quarterbacks will always try their best to knock the ball down instead of letting the defender go up and make the easy interception because this is what QB's expect their receivers to do for them if the ball isn't throw perfectly!

Joe Flacco was able to set a great example for his receivers and teammates as he stretched out for a beautiful fingertip grab in what I think was unquestionably the play of the game.

Coaching Old School

Mike Singletary is employing "old school" tactics in San Francisco.  During a 34-13 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in his head coaching debut, Singletary benched starting quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan in the third quarter. Then he sent tight end Vernon Davis to the locker room during the fourth quarter of the game for what Singletary believed to be a "nonchalant" attitude following an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Davis. 

Singletary later apologized to the fans and media for his team's performance in his now infamous post-game news conference.

Many are now wondering if Singletary's old school approach will work in the 49ers locker room.  I believe Singletary's mantra will eventually work in San Francisco, but it can't work with the players that the 49ers currently have in their locker room right now. 

I played for the 49ers in 2005, and Singletary was on the coaching staff.  I can say from personal experience that he is an unbelievable motivator.  Linebacker Jeff Ulbrich said last week that Singletary could talk about "tying your shoes and get you excited".  But the project in San Francisco to build a tough, winning attitude will take several off-seasons to construct.  Singletary will need to shuffle the roster in order to find "team first" players that buy into his philosophy for winning. 

I go back to 2004, when Tom Coughlin took over as the New York Giants head coach. There were a lot of doubters with regards to whether or not Coughlin could use his tough coaching principles in a locker room with plenty of veteran players.  Coughlin was able to get rid of the players that he did not feel were "team guys" and was eventually able to instill a "team first" attitude in that locker room.  In his 4th season, Coughlin led the Giants to a Super Bowl victory. 

I appreciate what Singletary is trying to preach to his team.  In an pro football age where there are lucrative contracts, multi-million dollar endorsement deals, and free agency, the notion of "team" can sometimes get lost.  I believe that Singletary's approach is just what the 49ers need in order to steer the ship in the right direction.

Don't Let the Numbers Fool You

Brett Favre or Chad Pennington?  Which quarterback would you want behind centre if you were building a team?  It's a question Jets fans might be asking this season as Pennington has played very well with Miami since being replaced by Favre in New York.

Pennington has quietly played extremely efficient football with the Dolphins, throwing 7 TD passes and only 3 interceptions this season.  Favre, on the other hand, has thrown 3 TD's against 7 interceptions in the last three games alone and is tied for the league lead with 11 picks overall.  All told, Pennington has more yards and a better QB rating than Favre this season.

When it is all said and done, though, this is an easy choice for me.  If I'm starting a team from scratch, or taking over a franchise, I would rather have Brett Favre as my quarterback. 

Chad Pennington does an excellent job managing games, and is extremely accurate.  Pennington, though, is limited physically as he does not possess a big league arm, and that hampers a play caller's ability to push the football down the field in the passing game. 

I believe that in the NFL, quarterbacks win games.  While Favre at times makes decisions that force you to cringe as a fan, he still possesses the big time arm strength that can change games.  As an offensive coordinator, the entire playbook is at your disposal because Favre can simply make all of the throws.  You never have to worry about out-scheming your opponent, or weather conditions or which personnel is on the field.  Brett Favre is simply a more dangerous quarterback that opposing defenses fear. 

Sunday was a case in point, as Favre frustrated fans with three interceptions, but threw a game-winning TD pass to Laveraues Coles with just over a minute left.

If I were taking over the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, with a great defense and a good running game, then Pennington would be a good fit.  But I'm assuming that as a first time owner/general manager/head coach, I'm not going to be as lucky.  So I'll take Favre.  This past off-season, the New York Jets did too, and it was a good call. 


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