'Elephant in room' with rookie long snappers
GREEN BAY - After finishing his collegiate career at James Madison, long snapper Derek Hart went to work as an engineer for Harley-Davidson in Pennsylvania. He lasted nine months before the football itch returned.
So Hart quit his job and decided to make a run at the National Football League. He signed with the Green Bay Packers on March 31.
“It’s just been awesome, man,” Hart said. “The whole atmosphere up here in Green Bay is just incredible when it comes to the football team. I’ve just been loving it.”
RELATED: List of Packers' tryout invitations
Hart is one of two long snappers on the Packers’ roster as the team continues its offseason workout program. He is competing with fellow rookie Taybor Pepper, who signed with the Packers on Jan. 27 after working out for the team following his career at Michigan State.
Both men are hoping to win the job held most recently by Brett Goode, a 32-year old veteran who once appeared in 126 consecutive regular-season games for the Packers. Goode has been the starting long snapper since 2008 but remains unsigned after becoming an unrestricted free agent in March.
Though he is not on the roster, Goode is likely a security blanket if Pepper and Hart don’t pan out.
“It’s competition,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “Just trying to learn more about both those guys. We have a lot of experience in the building, particularly at that position, so we’re just creating competition there and we’ll see how it goes.”
Because they are both rookies, Pepper and Hart are working to learn the various nuances of the professional level. Neither player was asked to block in college — instead, they simply snapped the ball and ran downfield to cover — so the first few months have been more about adjusting than anything else.
“Punt protections and working on footwork,” Hart said. “That’s what separates those who are good in this league at long snapping and those who don’t make it. It’s all about being able to protect — snap and protect.”
At the moment, their one-on-one battle continues.
“We’ve already become good friends with our lockers beside each other,” Hart said. “Everything we do we’re with each other, we’re cool. But it’s kind of the elephant in the room because we’re competing for the same job. But at the end of the day we’re all friends.”
Added Pepper: “We’re probably some of the closest of the rookies that have come up this year.”
In addition to their crop of undrafted free agents, the Packers invited 24 players for tryouts during rookie orientation weekend.
The players are scattered from across the country — from small schools like North Carolina Pembroke to traditional powers like Miami — but one name caught the attention of local reporters: Cameron Brown, safety, UW-Oshkosh.
Brown opened some eyes with gaudy workout numbers during his pro day at UW-Whitewater. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds and posted a 43-inch vertical leap.
For reference, Obi Melifonwu of Connecticut had the best 40 time (4.40 seconds) and vertical jump (44 inches) of any safety at the NFL scouting combine.
“I tell ya, he had a heck of a play yesterday,” McCarthy said. “It was kind of cool to see 32 on defense (Brown) try to intercept a ball that was thrown to 32 on offense (RB Devante Mays). It was like the highlight play of the game.
“But I can’t really give you a breakdown of any of these guys. I would say he belongs. That’s the first thing you look for in the new guys. Very instinctive, just the couple plays I saw him make, particularly in the seven-on-seven half-line drills.”