When the Miami Dolphins called Ryan DiSalvo’s agent to make him an offer shortly after the NFL Draft in May, the 2012 San Benito High graduate and former San Jose State long snapper was in utter disbelief.
“I was completely shocked,” said DiSalvo, who was picked up as an undrafted free agent. “I had no idea if I was going to get picked up by a team until it happened. But of course I was stoked.”
DiSalvo got noticed the good old-fashioned way: he spent a copious amount of time honing a particular skill set. In a game where the stakes are magnified and every play and snap can be the difference between a win and loss, long snappers are a vital part for every NFL team.
DiSalvo caught the attention of Dolphins special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi, who worked out DiSalvo earlier this year. In an article on the Dolphins website, Rizzi explained why they brought in DiSalvo even though the team has John Denney, a two-time Pro Bowl selection.
“In college, it’s hard to evaluate long-snappers because they don’t block,” Rizzi said. “Ninety percent of them don’t block. The rules in college are different than the NFL. In the NFL, you can only release the end man on the line of scrimmage down the field, where in college, you can release everybody. Ryan DiSalvo actually played for three years in a pro-style punting scheme, which is very rare in college these days. I could probably count on one hand the number of teams that use a pro punt formation. He happened to do that for three years, so he’s a little bit ahead of the curve.
“What we saw out of him from a velocity standpoint and athletic ability standpoint and a blocking standpoint certainly was impressive. I went out there and worked him out myself out in San Jose. He had a good workout. I like his personality, I like his body type, his frame (and) all of that stuff. Again, he’s going to have a tough time beating out John, who has been a multiple Pro Bowler. (But) everybody we bring in here has a chance to make the team and that’s going to be a competitive situation.” At 6-foot-4 and 249 pounds, DiSalvo has the prototypical build of an NFL long snapper. According to a Sports Illustrated article by Andy Staples, “coaches prefer snappers to be between 6-foot and 6-4 and between 240 and 260 pounds. They want them big enough to block, but they don’t want them so big they can’t cover the punt.”
DiSalvo proved he could cover the punt in Miami’s 27-10 win over the Giants last Friday in Week 1 of the NFL exhibition season, as he made an impressive tackle on the sideline. Making the play was almost as euphoric for DiSalvo as he came out of the tunnel of Met Life Stadium.
“I really haven’t had a welcome to the NFL moment just yet, but running out and seeing all those people in the stands was amazing,” he said. “That was probably the biggest thrill—putting on that jersey and going out onto the field for a game.”
The NFL, of course, is often referred to as “not for long.” As in every player is subject to getting cut, released or traded if their performance falters one bit or the team finds a suitable replacement at a cheaper price. It’s a world of alpha males in a dog-eat-dog setting; however, DiSalvo said Denney has been nothing but a true professional.
“He’s a nice guy and has been doing this a really long time,” DiSalvo said. “He knows a lot about the technique of the position, and we have a real professional relationship. I respect him a ton, and I’ve just been following his lead because he’s amazing. I pick up things from him as the days go by.”
Few fans realize just how technical the position is. On punts, long snappers have to get the ball to the punter in less than a second 15 yards away, and it must be absolutely perfect. In other words, if the punter wants the ball on his hip, it has to be at the hip.
If he wants it closer to chest level, it better be at chest level. If it’s not, teams will find a long snapper who can make that snap perfect every time. For a field goal or extra point snap, the ball has to get to the holder with swiftness and precision. And yes, where the laces end up do matter, as it contributes to the trajectory of the ball flight once it is kicked.
Kevin Gold, who is the agent of the only long snapper who got selected in this year’s draft, said in the SI story: “Most of the good snappers in the NFL have it down to a science. It’s typically three and a half rotations of the ball. The holder gets it and the laces are already out or the holder has to do a quarter turn and that’s all that’s required. The good guys in the NFL can do it like a machine.”
DiSalvo said he’s had an eye-popping experience learning the nuances of being a long snapper in the NFL. Fortunately for DiSalvo, he’s an able student who is learning from one of the best in the game.
“Watching how he (Denney) goes through his blocking sets and how he prepares for the game was kind of eye opening,” he said. “ Everything is different from the college pregame setup. I was kind of lost at the beginning of the game, but I kind of followed his lead and worked off what he doing. He made me understand how to prepare and go through different scenarios.”
Teams have to cut their rosters to 75 by Aug. 30 before finalizing their final 53-man squad by Sept. 3. Even if DiSalvo isn’t a part of Miami’s final roster—teams never carry two long snappers—he’s probably put himself in a great position to latch onto another team or play professionally in another league.
DiSalvo is enjoying his experience in the NFL, but he’s treating it with the seriousness of a heart attack.
“I’ve been focusing on trying to get better everyday,” he said. “I’m understanding more about the position and getting locked in situations. I just have to know the schemes and block the different type of rushes. That’s all I can control, and that’s what I’ll continue to do.”