Deep snappers take center stage in Mobile

MOBILE, Ala. -- When Nick Leeson of Virginia Tech and Brett Goode of Arkansas walked across the stage at the Senior Bowl weigh-in on Monday morning, they didn't elicit stares so much as looks of befuddlement.

"I was sitting in the weigh-in," said Minnesota Vikings assistant Kevin Rogers, who coached Hokie quarterbacks from 2002 through 2005, "and all of a sudden I said, 'Nick Leeson! What is doing here?' The guys sitting around me were saying, 'Who is this guy?'"

Leeson is just as surprised to be in Mobile as they are to see him.

They don't cut the same muscled figures that their teammates in Mobile do. Only when Leeson and Goode bend over and hum a fastball between their legs 13 yards for a perfect strike do people begin to understand why they can take their place among the best college football players in the nation.

"I really wasn't expecting to get a phone call," Leeson said. "I was actually just sitting at home about two weeks ago, making some sandwiches for lunch, and [Senior Bowl executive director] Steve Hale called me. I didn't know who he was. He said the Senior Bowl, and that kind of caught me off-guard."

After years of requests by Hale, the NFL acquiesced and allowed him to bring in a deep snapper for each team. In past years, the team coaches would find someone on their team who could deep-snap, with varying results.

Mike Nolan, coaching this game for the second consecutive year, said he and Tennessee head coach Jeff Fisher, his counterpart a year ago, discussed using the same snapper for both teams. They talked about agreeing not to rush the punter or not even punting at all. He is delighted to have a snapper.

"If that's your gift, you've got a place in the NFL," Nolan said.

Leeson started three years for the Hokies, whose head coach Frank Beamer is considered the guru of special teams in general and deep snappers in particular.

"There really wasn't too much room for error," Leeson said. "Having him stand behind you makes you concentrate."

Snappers, it turns out, have to adjust to the NFL as well. Leeson said his snap time has increased from .65 of a second to .75 since he began working with an NFL football. However, anything under .80 is considered good.

Moreover, Leeson spoke after a practice in which the cold, rainy conditions made for several fumbled snaps by the North quarterbacks. Leeson's deep snaps never wavered.

"I've been at Virginia Tech four years," said North wide receiver David Clowney, who also played on the Hokie punt team. "I never saw him make a bad snap. Not even in practice."

And so the age of specialization continues. Having deep snappers at the Senior Bowl will help the NFL clubs evaluate everyone on the field, including the snapper himself.
"It's no different than a kicker and a punter," Nolan said. "Way back in the day, one of the linemen kicked. He went and put the square-toe [shoe] on and did it. What I don't want to see happen is where a guy is only a holder. That would take up a roster spot. We could do without that."

The Niners could. Not sure about the Cowboys.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.