By Christopher Tomlinson
Tight Ends and Special Teams Coach
Franklin High School (TN)
Editor’s Note: Coach Tomlinson currently a varsity assistant coach at his alma mater Franklin High School (TN). He has coached at Franklin for the past 5 years, and I have worked with long snappers during that time as well as the 3 years prior. In addition, Coach Tomlinson has coached defensive line and tight ends.
First and foremost, I’d like to say that a long snapper should most definitely be "made" in the off season. Although it’s a position typically over looked, it’s still technically a skilled position and one that does take time and practice in order to be done effectively. Below I will discuss the very basics of long snapping from the warm-up all the way through timing with getting the kick off. During the spring and summer months, use these drills to help develop your snapper in order to have him ready during the season.
When I first learned how to long snap, my coach told me that "when you’re a good long snapper, no one will ever know your name." Although that is a bit humbling to a teenager, it could not be truer. You never want to have your name listed in the paper as being the person that sent one over the head of the punter, or had an unmanageable snap to the holder. In an idealist world, when it’s time for our coaches to look for a new long snapper, I typically look for the body type of a fullback / linebacker sort of player. Basically you want someone in the range of 6’0" – 6’3" and 190 – 220 pounds. One of the best that I have coached is 6’4" and our current long snapper is about 5’10", so size is not necessarily a requirement, just a preference. The reason however that I look for that size is that you want someone that is able to hold his ground (especially if you have them involved in your blocking scheme) as well as able to get down the field to cover on a punt after the ball is away. Three more desired characteristics that I look for are long arms, good hip mobility, and simply the ability to throw a decent spiral. With those basic characteristics, you should be able to coach them to long snap successfully.
The spring and summer allow you to take a little more time than when in season and rushing through drills and techniques. There are several simple warm-ups that I like to do with my snappers before we begin (and also as they prepare before games). These help loosen the shoulders, hips, and back, as well as hone your spiral before working out of a stance.
For an exclusive video that covers these warm-ups in more detail, click here to join the Insiders.
When you first working with a new long snapper, it’s good to work on their natural grip of the football. Remember, you’re looking for a kid that can already throw a spiral, so there’s no need to re-invent the wheel, simply hone what you’ve already got. Make sure the he’s using the laces with his throwing hand. You want the middle finger perpendicular to the laces, and depending on hand size is where the grip adjustment can come in. Someone with a larger grip will naturally hold the ball more towards the middle, and someone with a smaller hand towards the point of the ball. Also, some prefer two fingers together, or spread out. Just take a few minutes to work this out the first couple of times that you are working together. The grip should be comfortable to them and allow him to easily throw a spiral.
Coaching Point – Once they have established a comfortable grip, stick to it! A mistake that I commonly see is small finger adjustments if there is a bad snap. Get a grip that you know will work and stick with it.
I have seen several people that can snap with one hand, however more often than not it is typically inconsistent and does not have as good velocity. When I coach long snapping, I always encourage the use of the 2nd hand.
Once the snapper has grasped the concept, I move on to their stance. Normally this is where you’d start when learning a new position in football, but I fell it’s imperative to teach the ball skills first. If the player cannot grasp that concept, adding in the stance is going to be too much.
Next we progress to combining the stance and actually snapping the ball. When punt snapping, I coach the snapper to put the ball in "the box." This is from the top of the kicker’s punter’s knees, to the top of his numbers, and from outside of shoulder pad on both sides. If a snapper can place the ball in this area, we feel that it is a manageable snap for the punter. In an idealistic world, the ball will be placed at the punter’s hip on his kicking leg. This is something that we progress to when the snapper is consistent with his snaps.
To view the video that covers the snapping motion, "the box," and post snap, click here to join the Insiders.
For more advanced long snappers, we also coach them to "no look" snap. This is something that we stay away from with new snappers, since a lot of time they feel rushed and are inconsistent. Just like shooting a free throw, once you have done it 1,000 times, you know the feeling of the release and can advance on to "no look" snapping. This is something that is typically done when the snapper is expected to be a part of the protection scheme.
The period between when the ball is first moved on the snap, until it leaves the punter’s foot should roughly be 2 seconds. A good long snapper can deliver the snap in .8 seconds or under. Once he is comfortably snapping, and doing it well, start to time their snaps as a way for them to track improvement. Coach your kids to snap directly off the ground, and not hitch the ball. A hitch is basically picking the ball up off the ground for a split second, and then going through the snapping motion. To me it is a bad habit, gives off timing of the snap allowing the defense more time, and could result in a high snap.
Although this has primarily dealt with punt snapping, almost everything should hold true for field goal / extra point snapping. The largest hang up for short snaps is the release point. When snappers are first learning to transition to FG / XPT they feel as if they are dragging the ball on the ground. Again, just coach them up to be consistent, and keep practicing. We always use the aiming point of the inside of the elbow on the back arm (which is typically extended down to the tee when waiting for the snap.)
Finally, their biggest goal should simply be consistency. Each time they are going to snap the ball, they need to be consistent from the approach to the ball until the time the ball is away. Try to stay away from small adjustments here and there and focus more on being consistent through the whole process. Learn from both good and bad snaps.
In conclusion, I hope that you have found this information helpful. When I learned to long snap, my coach told me that his way might not be the best way, but it is what has always worked for him. Be patient with your player and help them learn and hone the skill. A good long snapper needs to know that their coach supports them in order to build their confidence to do well, as well as having a short term memory for when they make a mistake. Encourage them to work on this in their free time, and even meet up with the punter to work on timing and build a trusting relationship.
What you’re missing…
X&O Labs Insider members will gain full access to Coach Tomlinson’s entire clinic report which includes the following four exclusive videos:
Video 1: A comprehensive warm-up to properly prepare snappers to preform.
Video 2: How to grip the ball properly to ensure a perfect spiral.
Video 3: Details the specifics and coaching points of the proper stance.
Video 4: Walks you step by step through the snapping motion, "the box," and post snap action.