the study of the kicking components within sports

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Cain. Podlesh. Scobee…. Snap. Hold. Kick. (part 1)

Ask any kicker about the keys to successful placekicking, and they’ll quickly (if not immediately) mention their fellow specialists – the holder and the long snapper. They’ll note the critical importance of the timing, rhythm, and integration of their three individual tasks into one seamless production. Ask either of the other two players, and they’ll tell you pretty much the same thing. To further explore the inner workings of this combination, we decided to speak to not one, but to all three members of a well-known trio.

The Jacksonville Jaguars’ trio consists of kicker Josh Scobee, holder Adam Podlesh, and long snapper Jeremy Cain. Scobee has been with the Jags the longest of the three, drafted out of Louisiana Tech in 2004. Podlesh, better known as the team’s punter, was drafted out of Maryland in 2007. Cain, the newest member of the group, won the snapping job during the 2009 preseason. He had previously played for the Chicago Bears, Amsterdam Admirals (NFL Europa), and Tennessee Titans.

To provide a little background information, we asked all three players to recall their earliest memory of doing what they now do for a living.
  • Scobee: “I grew up playing soccer, so my first memory of kicking any kind of ball around would be when I was about three years old. My older brother played soccer as well, so he and I would go out and kick the ball around.”
  • Podlesh on kicking: “I think I was about five or six years old, at a YMCA soccer league. I kept kicking the ball over the goal. From then on I kinda knew that I had a big leg from a soccer standpoint, before I made the transition to football.”
  • Cain: “The first high school I went to, no one else could do it. We were in practice and coach made me get under there and snap it. That was my freshman year in high school.”
  • Podlesh on holding: “That wasn’t until college. I kicked field goals in high school, so that would have been pretty tough to do holding duties at that time. I had a great holder in high school. I never made the transition until my first year in college. I was redshirted that year so I didn’t play. We had a couple long snappers and obviously both of them needed to warm-up during practice. I was the other guy there, so I would take snaps from them to help get them warmed up. Not to mention I knew that our starting punter at the time, Brooks Bernard, did the holding duties as well. So I figured this is something I might want to look into and get myself prepped for. And it went from there.”
While Adam was adding holding to his job responsibilities, Jeremy was facing additional facets of snapping at each new level. He discussed the biggest adjustment between high school and college, and then between college and the NFL.
  • “I think it goes along with every long snapper, the biggest adjustment is protection. In high school it’s not as important in college. It goes even further in the pros because you have that responsibility in the NFL of having the A-gap whichever way you go, whether it’s the right or the left. Some college long snappers they just snap it and run down and they’re able to make the play in coverage. I’d probably say that’s the biggest adjustment – protection.”
When all three players entered the NFL, each faced a diabolical new nemesis. In the first 1.3 seconds of a kicking play, all three touch the ball – Jeremy and Adam with their hands, and Josh with his foot. In the NFL, that ball is the dreaded K-ball. How did it impact their transition from college into the pros and how does it impact each of their respective tasks?
  • Cain: “I think it affects me and every long snapper. Our equipment staff gets 30 minutes or so before each game to break in footballs. Some of them aren’t as broken in as others so they still have a lot of wax on the football. It’s challenging for every long snapper to have a new ball every game.”
  • Podlesh on punting: “It’s definitely a less forgiving football. As most of us know, they’re delivered to the referees the night before the game. Really nobody has any time, other than 30 or 40 minutes before the game they have one designated equipment manager to be able to break in the balls under supervision of an official, which keeps the balls from being in really good broken-in shape. If you hit the ball sweet, it will go almost as far as a broken-in ball. If you do not, it is definitely not as forgiving as a kicking ball that you would use in college, where you can use as broken-in of a ball as you want for the most part.”
  • Podlesh on holding: “The biggest thing with holding, and I think people know this from the happenings with Tony Romo… it’s a legitimate topic, with the wax on a new ball it makes it a little bit harder to grab and manage than a broken-in ball, like the quarterbacks would normally use in a game. Those are broken-in; they’ve been using those, as opposed to the K-balls which are not. They’re a little tougher to get your hand on, especially if they’re not broken in very thoroughly during those 30 or 40 minutes before the game.”
  • Scobee: “It was quite a change with the fact that you couldn’t break the balls in yourself to really get the compression and that broken in feeling that you get with any ball you’ve ever kicked in college. So it was a transition as far as trying to learn how to hit the sweet spot, and understanding that the sweet spot was a whole lot smaller whenever you have a newer ball, like the K-ball. That forces you to improve your technique and not just blast away at every kick.”
At any level of kicking, not just in the NFL, weather can impact the kicking game. We asked each member of the trio what is the worst weather condition for their respective task: wind, rain, or cold?
  • Scobee: “Most kickers would agree it’s the wind. The temperature doesn’t matter, although whenever you’re getting below freezing that’s pretty bad. But wind affects kickers and quarterbacks the most. If you’re playing in a dome eight games a year, that’s one huge element that you don’t have to factor in every week. I believe wind is the number one factor that affects kicking.”
  • Cain: “Well, all three of them are challenging. In rain you’re gripping the ball. With the wind you have to adjust the direction. Bitter cold affects it, but I’d say rain and wind are the most challenging for a long snapper.”
  • Podlesh: “Umm… you know with… it’s... YES! A combination of all of those is the worst. Cold to a certain degree, once it gets really cold, the ball never gets wet. We had a situation in 2009 against Cleveland towards the end of the season, it was so cold that the ball never got wet, it was just straight snow. Granted, it’s tough for you to grab a colder ball with cold fingers, but the slickness you would have on it in a mid-20’s temperature game is tougher. Wind is the worst factor. The ball will break on hold, it will break on a punt. There are so many factors that wind plays a part into in all operations with special teams.”
So far, we’ve primarily discussed the individual roles of each player. But as mentioned back at the beginning, a successful kick is a coordinated effort – three players working as one. Since Josh was the first to join the Jaguars, we asked him if there was anything in particular he recalled from the first time he met Adam, and then Jeremy when they joined the team?
  • “Not really, there’s nothing I can really recall. The three of us are great friends. All of us get along great. You couldn’t ask for a better situation with the three of us working together, because we all get along so well. We love to play golf together. We all have similar interests off the field. So it’s a great trio that we have, and hopefully the three of us can work together for a long time.”
In the forthcoming second part of our trio of articles on the trio, we’ll take a closer look at how they work together to ultimately split the uprights.

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