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Long snappers: Looking at football upside down

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Long snappers: Looking at football upside down

NEW ORLEANS (AP) They look at the world upside down between their legs.

The only time they get noticed is when they mess up.

Such is life for a long snapper.

In Sunday's Super Bowl, Brian Jennings of the San Francisco 49ers and Morgan Cox of the Baltimore Ravens will be snapping for punts, field goals and extra points.

They have the same goal: Don't do anything that draws a lick of attention.

``That's part of a long snapper's personality,'' Cox said. ``We just want to stay in the background.''

It may seem like a simple skill - hiking the ball between your legs - but it takes years of practice to be able to perform it with the consistency, accuracy and velocity required in the NFL.

They know one slight miscue could cost the game.

``You've got guys who've been out there banging their heads for 3 1/2 hours,'' Jennings said. ``You don't want to go out there and screw it up.''

While snappers, like kickers and punters, are viewed as something of outcasts compared to the rest of the roster, there's a growing appreciation for what they do. Camps have sprung up around the country dedicated solely to the art of hiking the ball - 7 or 8 yards to a holder for field goals and PATs, 14 or 15 yards to a punter.

A player who has no chance of making it to the NFL based on arm strength or his 40 time can now carve out a niche on special teams.

Don't chuckle. Jennings has managed to stay in the league for 13 years - all with San Francisco - doing nothing but snapping the ball. Cox is finishing up his third year with the Ravens and he, too, hopes for a long career looking at the world from a different perspective.

``I snap the ball accurately for a living,'' the 36-year-old Jennings said. ``I think that's awesome.''

If there's a drawback, it's catching grief from their teammates about the massive amounts of time they spend standing around on the sideline. But that's all in good fun. Everyone knows the snapper has a vital role to play.

``Whenever somebody puts his hand on the football, his job is very, very important,'' 49ers safety Donte Whitner said. ``One snap over the kicker's head, one snap that's wide right or a little low, can be the difference in a football game. People don't really notice you unless you do something bad at that position.''

Jennings was a tight end in college at Arizona State, but he got into snapping while recovering from an injury. Bored and just goofing around one day at practice, he hiked a few balls. Turns out, he had a knack for it, delivering the ball with surprising speed.

``A couple of my teammates said, `Hey, you're pretty good at that. Why don't you do that?''' he recalled. ``So I started practicing snapping so I could help my team.''

He did it so well that he was picked in the seventh round of the 2000 draft by the 49ers.

He's been in San Francisco ever since.

For Cox, snapping began when he was a fifth-grader playing youth football.

One day at practice, the coach asked if there were any volunteers for the thankless position. Cox raised his hand. His first attempt wasn't so good but his dad, who happened to be watching, encouraged young Morgan to give it another try. His do-over was much better, and he had a new position on the team in addition to being the center.

By high school, Cox realized that snapping might be his path to playing at a major college. He went to special teams camp organized by Tennessee, impressed the coaches with his skills and wound up being recruited by the Volunteers. But they weren't about to give a scholarship to someone just for snapping, so he had to walk on. He was the No. 1 long snapper for three years, but didn't receive a scholarship until his senior season.

No hard feelings.

It helped him get to the biggest game of his life.

``I can't say enough how blessed I feel to be here, to be somebody that gets to contribute to a potential Super Bowl win,'' Cox said.

His 49ers counterpart has already started giving back to the next generation of snappers with a program known as ``Jennings 1-4-1,'' which runs camps and develops training aids for kids who are trying to follow in his footsteps.

The name is a play on the philosophy he urges every snapper to take - focus on the next one, nothing more.

``Every rep, you're trying to be one-for-one,'' Jennings said. ``I can do anything once. Now, I don't know if I have 10,000 snaps left in my career, or 1,000 or 500 or 50. But I don't know if I could do 100 in a row. That seems like a lot. That seems daunting. But the next one? I can nail the next one.''

For Jennings, the most important part of snapping is the grip. He uses what he calls the ``Nerf Turbo'' - essentially, the same style he used to make one of those foam footballs do a spiral. It allows him to get impressive speed on his snaps, giving the punter or kicker an extra split-second to beat the rush.

Cox doesn't snap the ball nearly as hard as Jennings. The Ravens specialist focuses on consistency and accuracy, taking a meticulous approach to make sure he hikes the ball the same way every time.

On field goals and extra points, he always puts his heels on the same part of the hash mark. Then, he attempts to rotate the ball the same number of times so the holder - punter Sam Koch - can place it down in one motion with the laces facing away. If Koch has to spin the ball before placing it on the turf, it can throw off the timing just a bit.

As for those who don't look at snappers as real players, consider this: In Cox rookie's season, he tore up a knee but still finished the game, snapping the ball six more times in excruciating pain.

``As funny as it sounds, that was a really great experience for me,'' Cox said. ``To come out of it having all the support from my teammates, to hear them say, `Wow, that was awesome what you did.'''

Yep, these guys are real players.

And real important, too.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Ravens Mock Draft Roundup: A wide receiver, defensive end favorites at 22

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Ravens Mock Draft Roundup: A wide receiver, defensive end favorites at 22

This is not a drill. We are one week away from the 2019 NFL Draft.

Will the Ravens get Lamar Jackson help at wide receiver or will they focus on filling their holes on defense?

We will have answers to those questions in no time, but in the time being let's take a look at who experts are predicting they take with the 22nd overall pick.

NBC Sports Washington's Ben Standig and NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah: DE Clelin Ferrell, Clemson

Ferrell had 38 tackles for loss and 21 sacks over the last two seasons. A young threat would fit in quite nicely for the new-looking Ravens defense. 

Bleacher ReportNFL.com's Charles Davis and Sporting News: WR Marquise Brown, Oklahoma

Brown, who posted 1,318 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns during the 2018 season, reportedly made a visit to the Ravens this week

It's no secret that the Ravens need help at WR with only two guys on their current roster who have caught a pass in the NFL. 

SB NationSports Illustrated and CBS Sports: WR D.K. Metcalf, Ole Miss

After an impressive combine performance and a picture surfacing of him looking insanely jacked at the gym, Metcalf is definitely the most talked about receiver in this year's draft.

Despite missing part of the 2018 season with a neck injury, Metcalf's draft profile describes him having "projectable upside to become a home-run threat as a WR1." Just what the Ravens need.

ESPN's Mel Kiper and Todd McShay: C/G Erik McCoy, Texas A&M

The center position is not seen as a sexy pick in the draft, but Bradbury's skillset is enough to get you excited.

He has three years of experience while at Texas A&M and was only called for five penalties in 2,811 snaps over his college career.

The 2019 NFL schedule is set!  See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

MORE RAVENS NEWS: 

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Way too early season win totals predictions after 2019 schedule release

Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Way too early season win totals predictions after 2019 schedule release

The NFL released the Baltimore Ravens' full 2019 schedule Wednesday and we're officially one week away from the 2019 NFL Draft.

Here's the latest Baltimore Ravens news.

Player/Team Notes: 

1. The Ravens' 2019 schedule perfectly alternates between home and away games each week, which has only happened three other times since the 16-game schedule was implemented in 1978, according to ESPN Stats and Info. Among other notable tidbits, the Ravens will play four 2018 playoff teams over a five game span starting in Week 7. Their three home games in the month of December could prove crucial with them wrapping up the season at home for the third-consecutive year vs. the Steelers. The Ravens have three scheduled primetime games, none of which are against the Steelers marking the first time since 2006 fans won't be able to watch the rivals on a national stage. 

2. There's nothing quite like way too early season win totals predilections after the release of the full season schedule. Bleacher Report's Gary Davenport took his shot at it and have the Ravens finishing the 2019 season at 9-7.

"In addition to a pair of games against the rival Steelers and upstart Browns, the Ravens will play five teams that made the playoffs in 2018, including the reigning NFC champion Los Angeles Rams on the road," Davenport said. "The Ravens will play host to the New England Patriots (Week 9) and Houston Texans (Week 11) and travel to face the Kansas City Chiefs (Week 3), Seattle Seahawks (Week 7) and Rams (Week 12). It's a fairly daunting slate."

Davenport has the Browns finishing 2019 atop the AFC at 10-6, the Bengals at 6-10 and the Steelers at 8-8. For perspective, the Ravens finished their 2018 season at 10-6. 

Looking Ahead:

April 19: Deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets

April 25-27: 2019 NFL Draft in Nashville, Tn.

May 3-6 or May 10-13: Potential three-day rookie mini camp

The 2019 NFL schedule is set!  See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

MORE RAVENS NEWS: