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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.

---

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

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'Hardest decision of my life': Colts QB Andrew Luck retires

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'Hardest decision of my life': Colts QB Andrew Luck retires

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Andrew Luck watched one last game from the sideline Saturday.

Then he said goodbye to the NFL.

The Indianapolis Colts quarterback heard boos as he walked away from the field, then walked to the podium and made the surprise decision official. The oft-injured star is retiring at age 29.

"I am going to retire," he said. "This is not an easy decision. It's the hardest decision of my life. But it is the right decision for me."

Luck said the repeated injuries, the lingering pain and continual rehab took away his love for the game.

Word first leaked about Luck's plans during the fourth quarter of Saturday's 27-17 loss to the Chicago Bears when ESPN's Adam Schefter first reported Luck felt mentally worn down and had met with team owner Jim Irsay to inform him of his decision.

Luck has most recently struggled to recover from a lower left leg injury.

Luck's former coach Chuck Pagano made his first return to Lucas Oil Stadium since he was fired as the Colts' head coach following the 2017 season. Luck did not play that season because he was recovering from surgery on his throwing shoulder.

He returned last season and led the Colts back to the playoffs for the first time in four years, winning the league's Comeback Player of the Year award.

But in March, he suffered a strained left calf, was held out of all of the team's offseason workouts and returned on a limited basis for three practices at training camp in July. Lingering pain forced him back to the sideline and the Colts later determined that he had an injury near the back of his left ankle.

Coach Frank Reich had said he hoped to have an answer about Luck's availability for the Sept. 8 season opener after the third preseason game. This might not have been the one he wanted -- and certainly didn't expect.

Jacoby Brissett now inherits the starting job.

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Ravens Roundup: Robert Griffin III on track for Week One return

Ravens Roundup: Robert Griffin III on track for Week One return

Trace McSorley dominated the Eagles in Week 3 of the preseason, but the favorite to back up Lamar Jackson against the Dolphins in the season opener remains Robert Griffin III. 

Here are the latest news and notes on the Ravens.

Player News:

Coach John Harbaugh confirmed Saturday that QB Robert Griffin III is still on track to return to the field in time for week one of the regular season. The backup QB hasn't played since early in training camp due to a thumb injury.

LB Paul Worrilow agreed to terms with the Ravens on Friday, but changed his mind and decided to retire on Saturday. Per reports, Worrilow is stepping away to spend time with his pregnant wife.

Looking Ahead:

Preseason Week 4: Thursday, August 29 at Washington Redskins

Week 1: Sunday, September 8 at Miami Dolphins, 1 PM

MORE RAVENS NEWS: