It’s just a snap. All Danny Aiken has to do is whip a football between his legs about 10-12 times a game. What’s the big deal?
Don’t tell that to Bill Belichick. The Patriots head coach takes every detail of special teams very seriously. As a winner of three Super Bowls by three points each, he knows how thin the margin of victory is.
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski has been almost perfect this preseason, including a pair of 50-yard field goals against Philadelphia. Punter Zoltan Mesko has also been excellent with a 47.2-yard average and five punts downed inside the 20.
In addition to his punting duties, Mesko has been particularly sure-handed handling snaps for field goals. Against the Eagles one snap came in high, while in Tampa Bay,the ball came in low and to the right. Both times Mesko caught the ball and spotted it perfectly.
Long snappers won’t be dead center every time. The ball is usually off by degrees over the course of the game. That’s expected. Rarely is the ball way off and it’s up to the holder and/or punter to quickly adjust and catch the ball.
The concern is the frequency of Aiken’s inaccuracy. Aiken seemed to be on the money all of last year, and to see Mesko reaching in two consecutive games doesn’t look right.
It’s been a very long time since New England had a bad snap, yet the long-snapper position has been unstable since 2009. Aiken is the fourth long snapper to run through Gillette Stadium since 2008.
The position was secured by Lonnie “Snow Angel” Paxton from 2000-08. But after he left for Denver, the Patriots have been unable to find a long-term solution.
Jake Ingram was drafted in 2009 and was supposed to grow with Gostkowski and Mesko as a unit. Ingram was good in his rookie year, but lost his touch in 2010. He lasted eight games before Belichick replaced Ingram with veteran Matt Katula.
Katula was signed November 10, debuted against Pittsburgh four days later, and lasted the rest of the season.
Aiken followed in 2011 and did a fine job for the season, but his accuracy is a little off this preseason.
There are other players on the roster that can long snap, but no one is a full-time snapper like Aiken. There’s time to work out the kinks before the season starts, but Belichick hasn’t shown much patience with long snappers that can become erratic.
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