By Ty Frix, Director of Long Snapping, One On One Kicking
The long snap needs to be perfect every time and there is no room for error. In order to achieve this type of consistency, snappers need to focus on their mechanics, because every inch and second counts.
This is one topic in long snapping that will never be agreed upon. The bottom line here is that every snapper does it a little different, so your long snapper just needs to figure out what works for him.
However, a few guidelines must be followed.
First, the throwing hand should be placed on the ball with the fingers on the laces in exactly the same way the snapper would hold the ball if he were to throw a pass. This part of the snapper’s hand placement is not negotiable.
The off-hand is where each snapper is different. I split the bottom seam of the football with the index and middle finger of my off-hand (Diagram 1), but I have seen it done a few different ways. Having said that, in every case the off-hand should hold the ball in the finger tips—the palm should NEVER be placed directly on the football. If the snapper cannot hold the ball using only his off-hand grip, then he is doing something wrong.
As snappers move up in level, especially in Division I and professional football, most snappers have to make sure that they always give the holders a laces out snap on field goals and PATS. In order to do this, the snapper must be exceedingly consistent. They have to snap so much that they know exactly how many rotations their ball will have based on a certain distance – usually somewhere between 7-8 yards.
Once the snapper knows the number of rotations, he can rotate the ball in his hands in order to ensure that the laces will face out when the holder catches the ball.
This is the second most important part of a long snapper’s mechanics, behind the follow through. The stance alone influences every part of the snap, and anything wrong with the stance will create inconsistencies, which lead to lost games.
The first part of the stance addresses the width of the leg spread. This is the first thing most young long snappers do wrong. The width of the spread is all about the tradeoff between power and consistency.
The snapper’s legs act as a spring during the long snap generating most of his power. The more narrow the legs, the more coiled the spring will be, and the more power will be generated. On the other hand, the wider the legs are, the more room the shoulders have to clear on the follow through creating more consistency.
The happy medium between the two is generally accepted as 6-8 inches outside of the snapper’s shoulders (Diagram 2).
Remember long snapping is all about consistency, so we want to maximize this and then generate as much power as possible. Usually, this 6-8 inch mark gives the shoulders just enough room to completely clear on the follow through. Any wider would just be needless loss of power.
Once the legs are in the correct position, other areas of the stance can be addressed. First, the long snapper needs to have a flat back that is parallel to the ground (Diagram 3). The snapper’s butt should be raised or lowered to ensure that the back is indeed parallel to the ground. Once the back is flat, the snapper should then shift his weight as far backward as possible.
In order to do this, he should ensure that his heels are glued to the ground. There should be no air underneath the heels. Snapping is the only activity an athlete should ever do on his heels. If this is done right, the snapper’s butt should be around 6 inches behind his heels.
The bend in the knees should be greater than 90 degrees, preferably around 130 degrees. This is another problem area for many young snappers. By bending the knees to 90 degrees or less, the snapper essentially turns the stance into a squat.
The shoulders of the snapper must be able to clear through the legs on the follow through, but squatting places the snapper’s butt directly in that path and prevents a complete follow through.
The last part of the stance is the ball placement. The ball should be placed directly below the snapper’s eyes. His eyes should follow the ball throughout the entire snap and at least halfway to the target. If the snapper’s stance is correct to this point, the ball placement will correct itself.
Snapping a football is all about time and consistency. A correct first movement during the long snap can ensure both of these conditions.
Every coach is familiar with a false step. Any wasted movement in a snap is essentially a false step, and it could give the other team an unnecessary jump off the ball. The difference is that in snapping we call a false step a hitch.
It is all about synchronization. The very first thing a snapper should do is bring the elbows in, towards his body while at the same time begin to bring the shoulders down and through the legs. Remember, the eyes follow the ball, so as the ball begins to move, the shoulders and head move in unison (Diagram 4).
During a snap, the arms should not act as a pendulum attached at the shoulders. This causes the ball to sweep through the snap and leads to a huge loss of power. Whip needs to be generated, much like a quarterback would, and this cannot be done by sweeping or swinging the football through the zone.
The follow through is the most crucial part of a snap. Without a good follow through a long snapper will lose power and accuracy. The main goal of the follow through is to get the shoulders through the legs as far as possible. The coaching point here is for the long snapper to reach his hands as far toward his target as possible, almost trying to place the ball on the punter’s thigh pad.
A good follow through will generate enough backward momentum to cause the snapper to slide backward around 6 inches. While the slide is expected, long snappers must not “hop” backward. Sliding backward should be a symptom of a great follow through, not something a snapper tries to incorporate into the snap.
There are four practices that are essential to a good follow through. First and foremost, the snapper’s eyes must follow the ball to the target (at least halfway). Some coaches talk about trying to get their snappers to snap “blind,” which means the snapper follows through with everything but his head in attempt to pick up rushers quicker. This is unnecessary and causes the snapper to give up on his follow through too early.
Next, the hands of the long snapper should be extended as far as possible toward his target, and they should be low in the zone (Diagram 5).
The snapper’s heels should still be in contact with the turf. If they come off the turf during the snap, they should return to the turf at the conclusion of the follow through. A snapper must not fall forward even in an attempt to get down field quicker. The snapper’s job is to snap the ball on-time and on-target. Anything after that is bonus. Keeping his heels down prevents him from falling forward.
Finally, we have the argument of knee-bend. Many instructors will tell their snappers that knees should be fully locked at the end of the follow through. This is not bad if done right, but I have yet to find a player that can put his shoulders between his legs while his legs are perfectly locked out. I believe snappers should have their knees bent slightly, because the follow through is more important than locked knees.