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Zelenka in the rocking chair


It's a great job. You only have to play a few plays a game, you get to practice on your own field with guys who are all smaller than you, and the pay is great. Long-snapping is like retiring with full pay. The job comes, however, with one disclaimer: Don't screw it up, ever.

"When I first came here, I had Paul Spicer tell me, 'If you can't snap, I'm gonna to kill you.' Thanks for the encouragement, Paul," Jaguars veteran long-snapper Joe Zelenka said following special teams practice on Monday morning.

Zelenka is officially in the rocking chair. This will be his ninth season in the league – seventh with the Jaguars – but he's still not one of the league's longest-tenured don't-screw-it-up guys.

Seven long-snappers have more seasons under their belts than Zelenka. San Diego's David Binn leads the way with 14. Jason Kyle of Carolina and Ethan Albright of Washington are next with 13 each.

Pro football may be a young man's game, but not long-snapping. It is clearly for old guys who've proven they can throw a ball between their legs without screwing it up.

"You're never safe. You have to re-prove yourself time and time again. That's part of the fun," Zelenka said.

Zelenka has been money in the bank. That's what keeps him safe, but don't screw it up. Don't ever screw it up because if you do, "You're gone," Zelenka said, finishing the thought.

"Everyone says, 'You got the best job in the world,' but if I screw one up, it's going to cost us the game and I'm going to be screwed. It's the nature of the beast. Yeah, I know that coming in. I want them knowing everything is going to go fine. That comes with time," Zelenka said.

In his seven seasons as Jaguars long-snapper, Zelenka has been as predictable as training camp heat. He goes in and the ball goes back; quick and true.

When was your last bad snap, Zelenka was asked?

He pawed at the ground with his foot, hemmed and hawed and offered no answer.

Ah, so you've never had one, huh?

He pawed some more.

There is, of course, two ways of looking at the information: 1.) Zelenka has earned his coach's trust. 2.) He's due.

Zelenka is one of former head coach Tom Coughlin's last surviving personnel moves on the current Jaguars roster. It was the summer of 2001 when Coughlin needed a long-snapper to replace the guy Coughlin drafted to be the long-snapper, Randy Chevrier.

"The word I got was that I was just coming in to see what I could do. I just came here with one bag of clothes. I thought I'd only be here for 24 hours," Zelenka said.

Seven years later, he's still here and the bag of clothes has been replaced by deep roots in the Jacksonville community that have made Zelenka one of the most popular players on the team.

Hey, all he does is throw a football between his legs. What's the big deal?

The big deal is he throws that football in .8 seconds, which is the standard by which NFL long-snappers are judged. What happens when .8 becomes .9? Go ahead, finish it, Joe: "You're gone."

Here's the really good news for Zelenka: Rookie punter Adam Podlesh, who the Jaguars drafted in the fourth round and to whom they immediately handed the job, is a small-steps guy, which means he can move a little closer to Zelenka than most punters, which means Zelenka's snaps are likely to get back in .7 or better, which means Zelenka's job security should be better than ever.

"I get faster automatically, so I'm not going to complain," he said.

What's to complain? It's a great job. Just don't screw it up.

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