7-17-03, 9:05 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
If there is one guy who is living proof no one is immune to a coaching change, it's Bengals long snapper Brad St. Louis.
He has a new grip on field goals. Extra points. He has new blocking protections. He has different keys. He has -
Brad St. Louis? Who? You might ask, and if you do, St. Louis thanks you. While the special teams have imploded all around him during his three seasons in Cincinnati, St. Louis has remained relatively unscathed.
Some of life's most important jobs are the most obscure and you only hear about them when something bad happens. Ask Dick Cheney, your plumber, and St. Louis, whose heart sank when he saw Trey Junkin snap the Giants out of the playoffs back in January.
"I don't know if Trey had a bad snap in 18 years, but everyone is going to remember that one," St. Louis mused earlier this week. "If you don't know me, that's fine."
Think of it and St. Louis' name has never been linked by a profanity in Bengaldom because he has been as reliable as the rest of the special teams have been awful. The closest he has come to a sound bite is when he got a game ball for his snap off the Paul Brown Stadium ice rink for a Neil Rackers' field goal that ended the second coldest game in Bengals' history in 2000 against the Jaguars.
But new special teams coach Darrin Simmons has noticed St. Louis for all the right reasons and has turned the erstwhile tight end into pretty much a full-time specialist.
St. Louis, the sixth tight end on a roster with six, didn't take a snap at his position in a team drill during the spring. He has only worked as a tight end in individual sessions as Simmons bids to keep the quartet of St. Louis, Rackers, and punters/holders Nick Harris and Travis Dorsch intact as long as possible during practice.
"A lot of times during team, we're working on drills, or last-minute field goals," St. Louis said. "I liked the competition at tight end and playing there, and the last couple of years they needed me with all the injuries. But I'm also happy doing what I'm doing."
Which is adjusting to a new crackle and pop along with the snap on special teams.
"I can tell a difference this year already with Coach (Marvin) Lewis," St. Louis said. "Just noticing the emphasis on special teams. That's going to be huge. When you go into a team meeting and one of the first things he talks about is special teams some times, it comes from the top down."
This is how Type A it has been around teams since Simmons arrived: With the potential of three left-footed punters kicking for the other teams in the AFC North, Simmons has equipment managers Rob Recker and Jeff Brickner rigging the jugs machine so the balls rotate out of the chute with a lefty spin.
St. Louis has been working on spin, too. The idea is to deliver the ball to the holder on field goals and extra points with the laces out, or away from the kicker. That means Harris and Dorsch don't have to take the split second after catching the snap to spin the ball that way.
Now, St. Louis has been long snapping since his coach/father told him abruptly in a mid-season practice in seventh grade back in Belton, Mo., to switch positions with the snapper and come in from punting. But it took him only about a month after Lewis' first minicamp to get comfortable with what Simmons wants on the kicks.
"We figured the best place to get that rotation is seven and three/fourth yards," said St. Louis of where the hold is from the line of scrimmage. "You figure every yard you get a full rotation on the ball. I'm not grabbing he laces. I grip it a little harder because it doesn't come off the laces. You get a new ball that's slick and it's a little slippery, but you get used to the feel so that it comes off the hand naturally. That first minicamp, it felt weird, but it got better and it felt good (in the June camp). Now the thing is to get it consistent as much as possible in games."
And you thought the long pass from center was just a snap? There have been other changes with which to cope.
"The punt protections are different," St. Louis said. "The counting system is different. You have to learn the language, and how you count defenders. The blocking is different with certain rushers."
And there is the sense they are looking not to get him hurt by taking him off kick return. At 245 pounds, St. Louis is big enough to help frame the wedge that put Brandon Bennett into the AFC lead with two games left last season, but it's a tough business and when there isn't a clear backup snapper on the roster. . .
Last year, in the six weeks or so after Sean Brewer hurt his knee and Tony Stewart arrived on waivers, St. Louis was one snap away from being the only tight end. With the emergence of Stewart, the free-agent signing of the Falcons' Reggie Kelly, and Matt Schobel's encouraging rookie season, he isn't in the mix like he used to be. But his number of practice long snaps probably hasn't expanded.
"I'm pretty hard on myself," St. Louis said. "If I didn't think they were good enough, I would get my work in before or after practice when I was practicing a lot at tight end."
St. Louis has known how fragile it all is since the day his father lost patience with the seventh-grade snapper. He looked at his son, the punter and quarterback, and said, "You two switch. Brad, show him how to do it."
"It turned out he was a better punter than me and he became our punter in high school and actually kicked at a small college," St. Louis said. "There's pressure, but I've done it three years here, four years in college, four years in high school. For me, you control your energy, make it good energy, and don't waste it."
When he was a rookie, St. Louis got a chance to chat with Junkin, then snapping for Arizona when the Cardinals came to town in 2000.
"I got to talk to him a little bit in that game," St. Louis said. "About some tricks of the trade. Strategy. Getting people not to jump you, looking people off and then snapping. He was good with the advice."
But St. Louis doesn't want to follow him to the headlines.
"You'd like to think with a few years of good snaps you've built up something," St. Louis said, "and you're not one or two bad snaps away from them bringing in somebody else. But you can't get comfortable."