the study of the kicking components within sports

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Q&A with J.J. Jansen: All Things Important & Trivial

For the past three years, J.J. Jansen has been the starting long snapper for the Carolina Panthers. He had been traded to the team after spending his rookie season on IR with the Green Bay Packers. Tracing his career even further back, he attended college at Notre Dame and high school at Brophy Prep in Phoenix.

As he prepares to enter his fourth year with the Panthers, we recently spoke to J.J. on various snapping-related topics. Note: read the first nine questions for the important stuff, or skip to the last question for just the trivial.

Starting at the very beginning… What is your earliest recollection of snapping a ball?
“I started when I was a sophomore in high school. I didn’t play tackle football until I was a sophomore. I saw [snapping] as my earliest way onto the football field. I could always throw, I played baseball growing up. I was playing flag football which I picked up fairly naturally.”

During your early days, was there anyone in particular that served as a role model, mentor, or inspiration to you?
“My dad taught me. My dad had done it in high school, so he was probably my biggest coach and mentor when it came to snapping. The first professional snapper that I remember watching was Trey Junkin. He snapped in the league for about twenty years. Growing up in Phoenix, he had been with the Cardinals for six or seven years right around the time that I was picking it up. I really enjoyed watching him snap. That was really the first guy that I affiliated with longsnapping because he was the hometown guy.”

Looking back to your college career, what’s your favorite Notre Dame memory?
“There were a couple of them, but probably the one that pops into mind first was my first career start which was at the Bush Push Game. Number one ranked USC. We were 4-1 and I think we were tenth in the country and kinda rollin’. National television and the whole nine yards. That was my first ever snap in college. I was a sophomore. It was the middle of the season. I just remember looking across and Keith Rivers was standing over me. If I remember right, other guys on the field were Rey Maualuga and Clay Matthews. It was a punt safe look, so all of USC’s defense, who like all went in the first round in the next two years, were all on the field. That was probably the coolest moment I had – just my first opportunity to do it.”

Upon first entering the NFL, did snapping the K-ball require any adjustments or an acclimation period?
“I think it’s an adjustment for everybody, because the reality is in college you practice with the ball – even if the quarterback picks out the footballs for the game – you have an opportunity to get used to the grip, the shape, and how it feels and everything. In the NFL every K-ball is a little bit different. Some are a little tackier, some are a little slicker, so learning how to handle it and not let it affect what you’re doing as a snapper was a bit of an adjustment. But at the same time it made me a much better snapper because I had to learn to be ready for all situations - and that includes the football.”

Your rookie season with the Packers was cut short by a knee injury at the end of preseason. Could you discuss the mental aspects of dealing with that injury and recovery process?
“It was the first time I’d ever been injured, so that was very different – not being on the field, not being with the team. Especially in the NFL where the nature of the beast is the 53 guys that are healthy and on the active roster have to keep going without you. So that was tough. Probably the toughest part mentally is the realization - you know that Brett Goode came in and replaced me and he did an awesome job the whole year – and the toughest part is as snappers, as kickers and punters, we never root against any of our fellow specialists to do poorly because we know what it’s like to have a bad kick or a bad snap. We want everyone to do well, but the realization was that every good snap that he had, and he was flawless all year, was less likely that I was going to be back. That was probably the toughest part, because you’re rooting for him but you know that in him doing well and the team doing well it meant bad things for you in terms of that location. So that was tough, but at the same time it all worked out. Brett’s been there now for four years and has been awesome, and then I got traded and I have had a successful career in Carolina so far. It’s all worked out, but it was hard at first to get over that.”

One of the two kickers currently on the Panthers roster is left-footed Justin Medlock. Does working with a leftie kicker require any adjustments on your end?
“It’s a little different visually, just because of where the holder is lining up in relation to the spot that I’m trying to hit. But the reality is I’m just looking back and finding spots on the holder’s body or wherever my target is - where the holder wants it or where the kicker wants the snap located. I’m just trying to hit those spots, so it doesn’t really matter a whole lot. I don’t really see the kicker in my set-up. The only thing that it sort of influences is that having a rightie and a leftie on the roster at the same time, you’re going back and forth. My first two years here I was with John Kasay and my last year in college I was with left-footed placekicker Brandon Walker at Notre Dame. So in the last four years I’ve actually snapped three years to a left-footer. It doesn’t really affect me one way or the other. Sometimes going back and forth is just a little tough visually, but once the season starts and we have one guy, whether it be Olindo or Justin, I don’t think I’ll even realize that Justin is left-footed or that Olindo is right-footed."

You’re also working with two new punters/holders in Nick Harris and Brad Nortman this year. Comparing the adjustment period of working with a new holder on placekicks vs. working with a new punter, does one of those tasks require more time or work than the other to get used to working with a new person?
“If I had to say one over the other I’d say the short snaps, because every holder sets their body a little differently and you have the kicker that you’re trying to work in. There are three of us trying to get on the same page as opposed to just two. You tend to have to spend a little bit more time working on a the operation of short snap, simply so all three of us are in timing and rhythm, and on the same page in terms of how we want the ball held for the kicker and snap location. The punt snap still requires the same amount of time. Some punters like the ball up more. Some punters like the ball down more. Everyone’s got their preferences. The really nice part about both Brad and Nick is that they give you a really nice target back there on the short snaps. They’ve both got great hands. We worked very well together in the OTAs and minicamps. So it hasn’t been a huge adjustment, but probably the short snaps take a little bit more time just because you’re adding in the third person.”

If giving advice to high school snappers, what is the single most important thing they should know?
“I think accuracy is always the most important thing. Certainly you want to have some good velocity. You want to have a good spiral, good rotation on the ball. But a lot of velocity and good rotation doesn’t mean much if the ball is all over the place. Understand that the primary job of the snapper is to get the ball into the punter’s hand so they can punt the ball. Focus on how will the punter receive the ball - will they receive it comfortably and easy to punt. That will lead to a much better overall operation."

Is there any lesser known item that isn’t typically taught, but that you’ve learned or discovered on your own over the years?
“I think it’s a lot like a pitching motion or a batting motion. Everyone’s got their little different set-ups. I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all for long snapping. But probably the most important thing is to be balanced in your snap. The biggest transition I made in going from high school to college was all of a sudden my requirements for having to protect because we went with the standard NFL style punt protection in college. I know that’s changed for a lot of college programs, but snapping without protection responsibilities and snapping with protection responsibilities are two completely different animals. The more you can stay balanced both before the snap and as you’re catching yourself as you’re releasing the snap will allow for that transition to be a lot better. My freshman year in college I had to completely re-learn how to snap and be balanced, because in high school I snapped and took off down the field like a gunner. All of a sudden now I’m in college and I’ve got to be back-pedaling and taking on 250 pound linebackers and safeties. It’s a completely different beast.”

Regarding the Trivia Tuesdays that you do on Twitter, what’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned so far?
“The biggest surprise I’ve learned is that Panthers fans are on top of their stuff. I’d say at least 70% of the time we’ve had a correct answer inside about 20 seconds. So I’ve had to turn up the difficulty of questions tremendously. Probably the most interesting question that baffled our fans was that Steve Smith was one of four active players to score a touchdown rushing, receiving, kick return and punt return. I think the most common answer was Devin Hester because he’s so unbelievable on punt returns, everyone assumed he had done it. He hadn’t done it. I think everyone had forgotten how good Steve Smith was on special teams. It baffled me a little bit. I think that one took about twenty minutes for our fans to get right. We’ve got some loyal fans that know a lot of stuff, but that one tripped them up a little bit.”

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