It’s the one position on the field that no one ever talks about. If anyone notices or mentions the long snapper – he did something horribly wrong. Otherwise, he could go about his job flawlessly and no one would ever notice or care. That’s the ideal situation for a long snapper in terms of performance: no fan notices or cares. Drescher has been the Saints’ long snapper for the last six and a half seasons so it was a surprise to not see him come back. He had his share of issues when it came to the kicking woes this past season, though. While Wil Lutz’s low kick trajectory and poor protection were rightfully the most common blamed for the blocked attempts this past season, Drescher’s lack of snap cadence variety may have been a contributing factor too. Drescher has been criticized in the past for poor snaps, so he’s had some bumps along the way. This season in particular, though, was perhaps the biggest mistake of his career. At 4-4 the Saints had clawed their way back to .500 and were hosting the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos. Late in the game, you’ll remember the Saints attempted an extra point to take a one point lead. Then, this happened:
Sean Payton later said the following:
“You’re allowed to jump. It’s a strategy that most teams have. In order to make it illegal, the center has to rise up a little bit and then catch some contact with the player that’s jumping. We should’ve been able to see it. It’s one of those situations where you (could) change up your snap count, but the timing by (Simmons) was good and we weren’t able to recognize the look. But we should have.”
Without directly saying “I blame Justin Drescher”, Payton pretty much said as much. And honestly, you can point back to that play as the back breaking moment of the season. Drescher in that same article agreed, by the way, saying:
“That’s on me. I feel bad for these guys because it’s my responsibility to try to get up and block. I don’t really know what happened.”
Now Drescher doesn’t last 6.5 years with the Saints unless he had a lot of redeeming qualities on and off the field – so I don’t want to spend too much time on this post railing on him. He had a lot of solid if unspectacular moments in his career with the team. But the Saints decided it was time for someone new. So the two long snappers on the roster right now are Jesse Schmitt, a young player that’s been trying to make it in the league without much success so far, and Chase Dominguez, a UDFA. These are two no name guys with no NFL game experience. Now sure, the Saints could always pluck a long snapper from elsewhere at final cuts like they did last year at kicker with Lutz or they could bring back Drescher who is unsigned at any time. But for now, these are the two guys competing most directly for the 2017 Saints long snapper job. Considering their lack of experience, how worried should we be?
I’m going to take the surprising stance here and say that I feel better about our specialists than I ever have, regardless of who ends up with the job. Why, you might ask? Coaching. Greg McMahon had his moments from developing Thomas Morstead to ambush… but way too often under his tenure there were huge problems on special teams. When the Saints hired Kevin O’Dea last year as a kicking game specialist to help the issues the team had been having – Lutz responded by going a perfect 30 for 30 on field goals and extra points combined. And extra points are not a given these days, being from 33 yards out, so 30 for 30 is really impressive. Needless to say, the O’Dea hire was a homerun. O’Dea did so well, I expected him to be promoted and replace McMahon. Instead, the Saints decided to keep O’Dea in the same responsibility, and hire Bradford Banta to take over special teams. This is notable because Banta was a long snapper for 11 years in the NFL. He’s been a noted assistant with the Lions and Redskins. How Banta differs from McMahon is that he is a specialist. He’s an actual special teams player that understands the nuance of technique for specialists. That’s not to say you have to be a player to be a good coach – but it certainly helps. This Banta hire to me is in keeping with the O’Dea hire of not getting generalized special teams coaches and really getting specific skillset staff guys suited for specialists.
I picture Banta watching tape and saying “yeah, you know what, that is on Drescher, we need to get someone new”. I picture him knowing what to look for in a long snapper. I picture him liking the workouts of Schmitt and Dominguez and believing they have enough talent that he can mold them into quality players. And I believe he’ll do it. Why? Because O’Dea did the same with Lutz. Different positions and different people, sure, so there might be some flawed logic in there… but I like the way the Saints are making the hires. They feel like smart moves.
So while the Saints have two guys that have never snapped the ball in an NFL game, I believe they have potential (because the guy weighing in on their signing knows how to recognize it), and I believe the environment will be more conducive to helping them grow. I’m optimistic about the strategy changes on special teams and you should be too.