A long snapper in the NFL is not likely to grace the covers of magazines or have the most viewed highlight videos on the Internet. Often ignored in the special teams unit, the long snapper must be precise, consistent and accurate every single time they touch the ball. In New England, no position is overlooked and when the Patriots picked up University of Hawaii's Jake Ingram in the sixth round of the 2009 NFL Draft, it was clear, he is expected to be a big part of the team's future.
Long snappers are responsible for playing two very different positions. Along with the pressure of executing an accurate and strong snap, they are also expected to tackle and hopefully block for their kicker or punter. From 2000-2009, the Patriots depended on Lonie Paxton to be their man. For over 140 games Paxton snapped the ball on special teams. He was a distinct part of the game-winning kick during Super Bowl XXXVI.
As a free agent at the end of the 2008-2009 season, Paxton was signed by the Denver Broncos, leaving a gaping hole in the Patriots' special teams. Within 10 days of losing Paxton, New England signed former Arizona Cardinal veteran long snapper Nathan Hodel. Over the past seven years Hodel's career has benefited by being paired with one of the league's most accurate kickers, 2006 Pro Bowler Neil Rackers. Just over a month following the acquisition of Hodel, Jake Ingram was chosen in the sixth round of the 2009 Draft (198th overall), by New England and was the only long snapper drafted.
Jake Ingram never dreamed about being the next best long snapper in the NFL. The Hawaiian native began his football career as a 6'3, 232 lb. defensive lineman for the University of Hawaii and he loved every minute of it. But former Hawaii head coach June Jones had other plans for the reserve defenseman. Jones wanted Ingram to change positions to one that took Ingram by surprise. Coach Jones proposed that if Ingram agreed to play long snapper instead of defense end, he would receive a full scholarship to the university.
Jones' offer was too good to decline. "Maybe it'll get me somewhere…" Ingram explained to the Honolulu Star Bulletin. But, having to make the transition from playing defense to being a part of the special teams unit left Ingram unsatisfied…at first. "I felt like I wasn't a football player."
Soon enough, Ingram's abilities to snap the ball rapidly and deliver it to the perfect spot were to difficult to ignore by his teammates, pro scouts and even Ingram himself. Former Hawaii Special Teams coach, now defensive coordinator at Yale University, Ikaika Malloe explained.
"The long snapper position is one of the most important positions on the punt team," Malloe told Patriots Insider. "His [Ingram] snap is quick enough that it makes for a quicker punt. He also has great accuracy…which allows the punter to be in a smooth rhythm."
Ingram is recorded to have snaps between 0.65-0.7 seconds, well within the league standards.
With 35 collegiate games under his belt and arguably one the best long snappers in college football, Ingram has been well-prepared for his professional debut. Although he is competing with a seasoned veteran for the Patriots' top long snapper position, Ingram thrives in competition and nothing short of a perfectionist.
"I've worked construction, and that's hard work, and I think that work ethic just kind of carried over onto the football field," Ingram explained to WEEI.com. "I feel like when something goes wrong with a snap, I'm letting my whole team down."
Malloe has high expectations for Ingram in the NFL, just as he did at the University of Hawaii, "I truly believe he will be one of the best snappers in the NFL if he continues to get better," Malloe said. "Jake Ingram, I believe, will set the bar for what a long snapper should have in terms of tools for the NFL. I wish him luck in his career in New England."
If Ingram has the type of success Paxton or Hodel have enjoyed, he will not only fulfill his coach's wishes, but prove the Patriots right when they used one of their Draft picks on a long snapper.