Although there were just a few special teams coaching changes after last season, this off-season in the NFL has been a different story with almost a dozen.
With all of the vacancies now filled, below are the teams that will have a new coach in charge of special teams for the 2021 NFL season. Some coaches have just switched teams from last year, while others are new to the position or former assistant special teams coaches.
ATLANTA: Marquice Williams
DETROIT: Dave Fipp
GREEN BAY: Maurice Drayton
HOUSTON: Frank Ross
JACKSONVILLE: Brian Schneider
CHARGERS: Derius Swinton
RAMS: Joe DeCamillis
MINNESOTA: Ryan Ficken
PHILADELPHIA: Michael Clay
SEATTLE: Larry Izzo (served as interim in 2020)
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The end of the NFL regular season means that NFL writer Rick Gosselin’s annual ranking of special teams units soon follow. Gosselin has been doing his rankings for the last 42 years. He ranks all 32 teams in 22 different kicking game categories and assigns a one for the best and 32 for the worst, so the goal is to get the lowest number possible.
This year, the Patriots, under rookie special teams coach Cameron Achord, finished first with 214 points. Seattle was next at 222.5, followed by Detroit (235.5), Indianapolis (244.5) and New Orleans (260.5).
The Chargers had the worst special teams units under Gosselin’s formula, finishing with 519 points. Just above them was Minnesota (518), the Rams (507), Green Bay (492.5) and Cleveland (465).
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Like most players, long snappers were hit hard by the pandemic during the NFL Draft process last year. That could be the case again this year, with the NFL Combine being virtual and many Pro Days in doubt.
The post-season all game games and events this year have also been impacted, as the Senior Bowl, College Gridiron Classic, Tropical Bowl and Hula Bowl are the only ones with live elements. The Shrine Game and NFLPA Collegiate Bowl went virtual, but the NFLPA game still invited snappers. The Senior Bowl, for the first time, will feature three snappers instead of the usual two.
As of today, below are the snappers that are participating, or have already participated in, the various games and events:
SENIOR BOWL: Thomas Fletcher (Alabama), Camaron Cheeseman (Michigan) and Ryan Langan (Georgia Southern)
NFLPA COLLEGIATE BOWL: Colton Menges (Alcorn State), Kyle Poland (West Virginia) and Langan
COLLEGE GRIDIRON SHOWCASE: Scott Meyer (Vanderbilt), Adam Bay (Wisconsin), Paul Blackwell (Mississippi State) and Menges
TROPICAL BOWL AND HULA BOWL: Menges and Meyer
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The NFL playoffs continue this weekend with the Divisional Round, so it is a good time to provide the latest updates on the snapping position around the NFL.
Teams that remain in the playoffs that have a snapper ready on the practice squad are the Ravens (Nick Moore) and Garrison Sanborn (Bucs). The Saints added veteran John Denney to its practice squad, but just removed him. However, it is likely he could be brought back if the Saints advance. The Rams had Colin Holba, who was waived after snapping the last regular season game for the Niners, in for a visit this week, so he may also be signed to the practice squad.
Other snappers have signed reserve/future deals that become effective after this season ends. Dan Godsil (Bengals), Anthony Kukwa (Texans), Carson Tinker (Giants), Rex Sunahara (Dolphins), client Liam McCullough (Raiders) and Matt Orzech (Titans) will all be under contract next season. Most of these snappers were on their team’s practice squad. At least one snapper that was on a practice squad, Steven Wirtel (Lions), has not yet signed a deal for next season after his practice squad contract with Detroit expired. Christian Kuntz, who has been on and off the Steelers practice squad is also available after being released from the practice squad.
Some other big news after the season ended was that the AP All-Pro team includes long snappers for the first time. Morgan Cox (Ravens) had 27 votes to finish on the First Team while Luke Rhodes (Colts) had 8 for the Second Team. Tyler Ott (Seahawks) finished with 7 votes, while Jon Weeks (Texans) and LP Ladouceur (Cowboys) each had 2 votes. Rick Lovato (Eagles), Charley Hughlett (Browns), Nick Sundberg (Washington) and JJ Jansen (Panthers) each had a single vote.
In the Wild Card Round, client Patrick Scales (Bears) had a solo tackle and Charley Hughlett (Browns) added an assisted tackle. Browns special teams coach Mike Priefer served as Head Coach due to COVID impacting Kevin Stefanski and led his team to a win over the Steelers. Other special teams coaches will change during the coming weeks, as the Vikings already dismissed Marwaan Maalouf.
In a virtual ceremony held on Saturday evening, Alabama long snapper Thomas Fletcher became the second recipient of the Patrick Mannelly Award for the best FBS senior snapper. Damon Johnson (USC) and Ryan Langan (Georgia Southern) were the other two finalists.
Fletcher will compete tonight in the National Championship game against Ohio State and next participate in the Senior Bowl as one of the top NFL Draft prospects. The other Senior Bowl snapper will be Camaron Cheeseman from Michigan, who opted out of playing this season.
The NFL regular season is complete and all 256 games were played. Congratulations to Thomas Hennessy (Jets) and Rick Lovato (Eagles) who led all snappers with tackles in punt coverage, each totaling five. Lovato had one solo tackle as part of his five, while Hennessy had three solo tackles. Both were also the tackle co-leaders last season.
Colin Holba snapped for the Niners this week in place of Taybor Pepper who was on the COVID list. Andrew DePaola had a fumble recovery and tackle in punt coverage and Lovato added his only solo tackle for the season. Nick Sundberg (Washington) recorded his first tackle of the season, a solo stop.
Two snappers, John Denney (Saints) and Drew Scott (Cardinals), had tryouts this week. This was the second time Denney has worked out for New Orleans this year.
To briefly review this year at the snapping position, there were a number of performance related changes unrelated to COVID. Kyle Nelson (Niners), Beau Brinkley (Titans) and Austin Cutting (Vikings) all lost their jobs due to performance. In recent years, most changes have been due to injury, but physical injury was not much of a factor this season. There were also two special teams coaching changes during this season, which is also rare. Ben Kotwica (Falcons) and Brayden Coombs (Lions) were both replaced during the regular season.
With the regular season done for many teams, those out of the playoffs can sign players to reserve/future contracts that take effect after this season ends. Among the snappers that have signed are former practice squad members Dan Godsil (Bengals), Anthony Kukwa (Texans) and Carson Tinker (Giants). More signings are expected in the coming days.
In the coming weeks, Longsnap.com will track all of the special teams coaching changes, reserve/future signings and snappers heading to veteran free agency in March. Snappers in the upcoming NFL Draft class will also be featured and they face more uncertainty in the scouting process with all-star games, the Combine and Pro Days.
The NFL Long Snappers Chart after the 2020 Regular Season is below.
Week Sixteen is complete and just one week remains in the NFL’s regular season. Despite the COVID pandemic, the NFL and its players have managed to get through the entire season.
There have been significant impacts caused by the virus, especially at the snapper position. For example, Taybor Pepper of the Niners was the latest snapper placed on the COVID reserve list following Sunday’s game. Colin Holba just terminated his Rams practice squad contract, so I am connecting the dots to conclude that Holba returns to the Niners if Pepper cannot snap in Sunday’s finale. However, the Niners have also brought in Drew Scott for a tryout.
Christian Kuntz was released from the Steelers practice squad this week, but is expected to be brought back soon. Anthony Kukwa became a recent addition to the Texans practice squad, leaving eight snappers on practice squads as of today after Holba ended his practice squad deal. I anticipated that most teams in contention for the playoffs would acquire snapper insurance by adding a snapper to the practice squad, but, as of now, just four playoff teams (Baltimore, Miami, Tampa Bay and Tennessee) have done so.
Two snappers recorded tackles in punt coverage this week, as Blake Ferguson (Dolphins) had a solo tackle and Kameron Canaday (Steelers) added an assisted tackle. With a week left, Thomas Hennessy of the Jets leads all snappers with five total tackles.
The NFL Long Snappers Chart after Week Sixteen is below.
Week Fifteen saw an uncharacteristic poor extra point snap from Rick Lovato of the Eagles and a failed fake punt by the Lions. The fake punt was apparently not authorized by the coaching staff and cost special teams coach Brayden Coombs, in his first year with the team, his job. Marquice Williams will coach the special teams units in Detroit for the final two games.
The Buccaneers had a scare when snapper Zach Triner, along with the team’s kicker and punter, were all placed on the COVID reserve list early this week. However, Triner was cleared and able to snap. The team did add veteran Garrison Sanborn to the practice squad and he is the ninth snapper on a practice squad this week. One other snapper, Lucas Gravelle, had a tryout with the Saints.
A milestone was also reached this week as L.P. Ladouceur of the Cowboys set the record for most NFL games played by a Canadian player at 251, all of which have been consecutive.
The Pro Bowl teams were announced last night, with Morgan Cox (Ravens) selected for his fourth and Tyler Ott (Seahawks) his first. There will be no actual Pro Bowl game this year and Hunter Bradley (Packers) and Kameron Canaday (Steelers) won the first ever fan voting conducted for the snapper position.
In punt coverage, five snappers recorded tackles, with James Winchester (Chiefs) recording a solo and assisted tackle, while Thomas Hennessy (Jets) and Taybor Pepper (Niners) added solo stops. Jacob Bobbenmoyer (Broncos) and Cole Mazza (Chargers) had assisted tackles.
The NFL Long Snappers Chart after Week Fifteen is below.
Week Fourteen is complete and the NFL continues to get games played, in full and generally as scheduled, despite the pandemic.
In game action, Taybor Pepper (Niners) made a nice play to down a punt at the one- yard line against Washington, while the Vikings kicking unit continues to struggle in field goals and extra points.
I have anticipated all season that any team in contention for the playoffs will look to add an experienced snapper to the practice squad since the time to find a replacement is lengthy due to testing protocols. Rule changes allow the practice squad to consist of 16 players and veterans are eligible. This allows teams to add an experienced snapper in case of emergency, as some teams have done all year.
This week, the Rams became the eighth and latest team to add a veteran to the practice squad by signing Colin Holba. The Texans may add Anthony Kukwa, who is visiting the team and spent time with them previously. Drew Ferris had a tryout with the Chargers this week and veteran Kyle Nelson is expected to tryout with the Raiders.
Two snappers, Cole Mazza (Chargers) and Thomas Hennessy (Jets), each added assisted tackles in punt coverage this week.
The NFL Long Snappers Chart after Week Fourteen is below.