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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Matt Katula Snapping Lesson

On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week former University of Wisconsin and Baltimore Ravens Long Snapper Matt Katula was in Scottsdale, Arizona for a One on One Snapping Lesson with his former Special Teams Coordinator - Coach Gary Zauner.
When I was the Special Teams Coordinator with the Baltimore Ravens in 2005 I scouted, evaluated and recruited Matt Katula to sign as a free agent with the Baltimore Ravens. Matt was a prior free agent in my eyes and we needed a long snapper that could not only snap but block and cover. Matt signed a free agent contract after the 2005 draft with the Baltimore Ravens and received no signing bonus but a chance to make the roster.
Matt proved me right.
In his rookie season Matt beat out Joe Maese the incumbent snapper because he had the total snapping package in my eyes. Matt at 6'6" and 270 pounds was not only an excellent snapper but very athletic. A former point or shooting guard at Catholic Memorial High School in Brookfield, Wisconsin Matt could also block, run and change directions. In his first season with the Baltimore Ravens, Matt made a total of 10 special teams tackles. That led the NFL Football league amongst long snappers.

A Concern for Specialists:

The 80 man roster rule has affected several NFL kicking specialists in the last couple years with injuries. Many NFL teams have limited the numbers of specialists they bring to mini and training camp. The results have been that several veteran NFL specialists have come up with leg, groin and back problems due to over kicking or punting. Long snappers like Matt have acquired elbow and shoulder problems due to excessive snapping reps.

But not too many NFL Head Coaches, GM's or Personnel Directors seem to take caution with this concern. They just figure that all a specialist has to do is just kick, punt or snap and they shouldn't be getting hurt or injured anyways. In recent years more and more kicking specialists are getting hurt and I believe it is a direct result of the 80 man roster rule. Not too many NFL owners or front office people are concerned about changing a rule because of a kicking specialists.
Example: In 2009 I received two calls during training camp from Special Teams Coordinators who had only one kicker in camp and had to play a preseason game that weekend. Sebastian Janikowski (Raiders) strained a hamstring and Shane Graham (Bengals) a groin. Both teams had just a couple of days to find a 'rent-a-kicker' for the game. And there are getting to be more and more each year.

Last season the Ravens brought in two kickers and punters to compete for jobs however, Matt was the only snapper. During training camp Matt took all the reps while the kickers and punters competed for the starting positions. During mini camp Matt acquired a sore elbow, which many trainers or doctors refer to is a 'tennis or pitching elbow'. The elbow continued to get worse as the season went on.
Most NFL snappers, use both hands to field goal and punt snap. Matt a self taught snapper is predominately a one handed long snapper. Because the elbow of Matt's snapping arm was sore or injured he no longer was snapping perfect. Matt who normally was perfect on every long and short snap was becoming erratic. It was also having an effect on the punter and kicker.

A Side Note:

During my 13 years in the NFL as a Special Teams Coordinator with the Vikings, Ravens and Cardinals there were a couple of years I had to go to camp with just one kicker, punter or snapper.
However, I knew first hand if a specialists over kicks or punts he will get hurt. In 1973 when I was a free agent kicker and punter with the Minnesota Vikings I went to camp and kicked way too much during training camp and tore a muscle in my thigh. The next week I was released.
My experience as a player has helped me tremendously coach and train all specialists. As a Special Teams coach you must protect the most important or 'Vital Man' on your special teams. I always referred to the long snapper as the 'Vital Man' in the kicking game because of the importance of his snap. In other words all good kicks and punts usually start with a Perfect Snap and most bad kicks or punts start with a poor or bad snap.

Matt Katula works 'Perfect Laces Drill'

As I mentioned earlier, Matt was a self taught snapper and never did any drills to reinforce good basic snapping fundamentals. He basically picked up a ball and started to snap. And he snapped at a very high level. When his injury occurred and the muscles were injured, I believe he lost the perfect muscle memory for a 'Perfect' field goal and punt snap. He was snapping just OK but not at the highest level.
Matt told me he tried to work and get his snapping technique back but really didn't know how to go about it. In the spring once his elbow felt better he started snapping again. However, without good fundamental drill work to get his 'Perfect' snap back he never really improved. He went to training camp in snapping shape but still felt he was not snapping at his highest level.
After the first pre-season game Matt was Released. Morgan Cox a free agent Long Snapper from the University of Tennessee earned the job. I felt bad for Matt but happy for Morgan. I have known and worked with Morgan for the last two years. He attended both my PRO Development Camp in 2009 and my College Senior Specialists Combine in 2010. You can view Morgan's College Senior Specialists Combine video: Click Here!

Morgan in PRO Development Camp

Snaps to Drew Butler 'Ray Guy Award Winner'

Morgan was in as the snapper with the Baltimore Ravens and Matt was out! Life in the the NFL.

Matt had been with the Ravens for 5 years. He was devastated. Matt was no different than any other player or coach in the league. He had settled into Baltimore with his wife and two daughters and acquired a ton of new friends. But, as I tell all my friends the letters NFL mean 'Not For Long'!

Life goes on as Matt and I have both learned. When I got fired after the 2006 season with the Arizona Cardinals I was devastated. My wife Michelle and I had just moved across the country to live in Arizona and I was fired after one season. I felt with my background and football coaching record I would get hired again. Well I didn't!

I needed to do something so I rekindled my career as a Kicking, Punting, Snapping & Special Teams Coaching Consultant. Two other times in my life when I was out of coaching I took what I do best and started my own business; Coach Zauner LLC.

One on One Kicking Lesson with Billy Cundiff

I specialize in kicking, punting and snapping lessons. The One on One Lessons help a kicking specialist that is committed, take his game to the next level or in the case of Baltimore Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff, get his game back to the highest level.

I have also started two combines. In February I have my College Senior Specialists Combine and in March I host my Free Agent Specialists Combine. Both combines have helped a lot of kicking specialists get the exposure they want and need. In 2009 (17) of the (41) participants signed contracts with either the NFL, CFL or UFL.

In 2008 after I worked some individual kicking lessons with Billy Cundiff he attended my 2009 Free Agent Specialists Combine. There were 32 NFL, CFL and UFL coaches and scouts in attendance. Billy performed leaps and bounds above the rest. His kicking game was back and eventually so would his life in the NFL.

Billy was seen by almost every NFL team and all were impressed with his performance at my kicking Combine. Billy got his confidence back and waited for the calls. Because he was a veteran many NFL teams didn't want to sign him because of the salary cap. They wanted to go to camp with a rookie. However, when the season started NFL teams wanted the best available kicker and that was Billy Cundiff.

In 2009 Billy had short stints with the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns when their kickers, Jason Hanson and Phil Dawson went down because of injuries. Later in the year because of Billy's kicking success with the Lions and Browns the Baltimore Ravens signed him. Billy ended the 2009 season with the Ravens and is there today in the 2010 season kicking better than ever.

The Matt Katula Story:

On Tuesday and Wednesday I video taped and showed Matt exactly what had happened to his snapping technique because of the injury. I had some video in my files when I coached Matt back with the Ravens when he was snapping perfectly on both field goal and punt snaps.

I compared Matt's old (2005) video to his recent video. I analyzed Matt's form and technique and discussed with him what I felt was the best game plan to get him not only back in perfect snapping form but back in the NFL.

Matt (Chicken Wing) One Handed Snapping Form

Matt (Two Handed) Follow Through Technique

Two Handed Finish

During Matt's two day One on One Snapping Lesson we addressed both phases of his snapping game. I gave him a set of drills to work and perfect his field goal and long snapping technique. The drills will help to replace the old muscle memory with the new and 'Perfect' muscle memory. The new will replace the old or bad muscle memory in a couple of weeks as long as Matt is diligent with his practice routine.

As I tell all kicking specialists, it takes at least two to three weeks of drill work to address a kicking, punting or snapping problem or flaw. The key to all specialists getting better is Practice, Practice and more Practice.

In the words of Vince Lombardi: "Practice doesn't make Perfect. Perfect Practice makes Perfect."

I believe the One on One Long Snapping Lessons were not only good to repair Matt's snapping technique but maybe more importantly his confidence.

After just two days of working with Matt I know he has the talent and skill level to be back in the league. I always felt that Matt even with his unique (one handed snapping) technique was a Top 10 Snapper in the NFL. Now with some drills and better technique and with his athletic ability I believe the sky is the limit for Matt.

Click below to listen to Matt Katula's testimonial after working a One on One Snapping Lesson with Coach Zauner in Scottsdale, Arizona.

During my NFL coaching career I have been lucky to meet and coach some great players and people. Matt is one of my all time favorite specialists. He has a great personality and is very likable. Both Matt and I are from the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area... two cheese heads. Maybe that is why we connect well.

Whatever the reason, it was once again a pleasure working with Matt. After 5 years in the league Matt has hit a bump in the road. I am hoping that our work together and my expertise will get Matt back on the road to success and back in the NFL. Best of Luck to Matt and his supportive wife, Allison!

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