Husker OLB Coach Dewitt on Sports Nightly: 'No Cancer Left in My Body'
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Competition Extends to Nebraska’s Long Snapper Position

September 25, 2018

After Nebraska's 56-10 loss to Michigan, Scott Frost spoke Monday morning on what happened in Ann Arbor, Michigan, hitting the reset button for Purdue and plenty more. During his time at the podium, Frost was also asked about whether or not he'd consider using a different punt returner against the Boilermakers.

“To be honest with you we’re going to put the guy out there that we think can do the best job and we’ll evaluate that every week and make sure we’re putting the guys out there that can give us the best chance to be successful on any play," Frost said.

It was an interesting comment, too. While the punt returner position hadn't necessarily been addressed ahead of Michigan (in terms of replacing one player for another), another special teams position was: long snapper.

Jordan Ober, Nebraska's senior scholarship long snapper, did not go on the field with the punt unit. He was on the field for Nebraska's one field goal and one extra point attempt, but stayed on the sideline for punts. In his place? Junior Chase Urbach.

It wasn't odd for Urbach to be on Nebraska's 74-man travel roster. He's traveled before. It was just surprising to find him on the field in place of Ober, who is in his fourth season as Nebraska’s starting long snapper. Ober also earned All-Big Ten (Phil Steele) and All-America (Rubio Long Snapping) recognition in 2017 and has worked with punter Caleb Lightbourn since 2016.

So, what went into the decision to replace Ober with Urbach? When asked, special teams coordinator Jovan Dewitt offered up two reasons: 1) Nebraska needed someone that could cover a little bit better on punts, and 2) Ober had a small tweak in his knee that needed to be taken care of.

Frost doesn't release details on injuries in-season unless they're season-ending, so it's hard to know exactly what was going on with Ober. He was still OK to snap on field goals and extra points, but Dewitt felt Urbach was better suited for punts.

And there was a specific reason for that.

"Urbach is a little bit faster down the field in terms of being able to run, so he's got a little bit more athleticism when we want to go cover on kicks," Dewitt said. "We felt that Urbach gave us a better opportunity to cover kicks a little bit better in terms of getting down the field and disrupting the runner's path."

What Nebraska gained in punt coverage from Urbach was traded for the actual snap's speed. There is a speed long snappers and punters work at to be the most successful. A snap will typically take between 0.7 and 0.8 seconds, with the in-hand time (the moment the punter receives the ball to the moment the ball leaves his foot) taking between 1.2 and 1.3 seconds. The total time should be around 1.9 to 2.1 seconds. Anything over 2.1 seconds is at risk of being blocked.

Looking back at previous game film, there's a small difference in snap time between Ober and Urbach. Against Michigan, Lightbourn had a couple of punts that came close to being blocked. A potential reason for that could obviously be Michigan's ability to get through the line. Another could be Ober’s punt snap speed.

Dewitt confirmed Ober is operating around a 2.0 to 2.08 punt snap speed with Lightbourn. Urbach is closer to 2.1. The difference doesn't concern Dewitt.

"We're still obviously well within the normal operational limits of what you want in terms of punt," Dewitt said. "So we were a little bit slower, and I think some of that may be nerves for Urbach getting in there for the first time. But his longsnap time, there is a little bit of a difference but it's pretty negligible in terms of the whole operation."

Urbach found out the Sunday before the Michigan matchup that he would be the long snapper on punts. Dewitt and the Nebraska staff wanted to be sure Urbach had enough time to work with Lightbourn. Any less time would have been too tough for the junior.

Dewitt still understood the pressure Urbach would be under though, no matter how early in the week he knew about the chance. He was pleased with how Urbach handled it.

"There's 111,000 people staring at you and if you shank it, it's going to be bad and everyone is going to know it," Dewitt said. "But you know, truthfully we didn't really discuss it all that much. He just went out there and that's his job and he was like, 'OK, I'm up. Let's go.' He just went. He was really calm and cool-headed about the whole thing. He might tell you differently."

On the other hand, Ober wasn't particularly thrilled with the change. Dewitt expected that.

"Anyone who gets replaced at any point in time is not happy about it," Dewitt said. "Anybody who gets replaced if they're competitive is going to be angry and try to work themselves back into it and that's what we want. We relish it. We want guys to have that feeling."

And the staff wants everyone to have that feeling, whether it's for playing time at quarterback or long snapper. No position is off-limits.

"It's like anything and everything that we do," Dewitt said. "Everything is competition every day."

As Frost said on Monday, the staff is "never going to give up on a kid." That applies to Ober too, who Dewitt hopes can continue to compete for that spot throughout the season.

Long snapper is typically a role that prefers to go under the radar. It's better to be unknown because it means you're doing your job correctly. Dewitt understands why the position received some attention after Michigan though. Make a change, especially with a multi-year starter, and people are bound to notice.

Plus, "no one cares about special teams until they care about special teams."

And for now, people care. From the long snapper to the punt returner.

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