At times last season, Matt Katula was surrounded by news cameras, took up sizable amounts of newsprint and was the subject of Internet message boards.
And he hated every moment of it.
Katula is a long snapper, and his job is to snap the football during punting and kicking situations, impede a wall of rushers intent on blocking the ball, and get off the field. Last year, those tasks sometimes included dealing with the media after Katula was responsible for off-target snaps that contributed to a few missed field-goal attempts by Billy Cundiff.
It was a season Katula, 27, is happy to forget.
"You can ask my wife. It was tough," he said. "I had never really struggled before with this -- throughout college or the pros. When you have your mom calling you after she went on the message boards and read stuff from fans who really don't understand what you're going through but write like they do, it's tough. And you try not to read that kind of stuff, but it's hard not to. Being a long snapper, you get Googled once every six months. And then all of a sudden, your phone's blowing up. It was tough last year, a tough year."
Katula, a 6-foot-6, 272-pound center who is entering his sixth season as the Ravens' long snapper, was bothered by a case of nagging tendinitis that sent waves of pain through his right elbow and forearm.
During the season, Katula acknowledged that he was dealing with tendinitis, but he never cited it as an excuse for his performances. This past June, however, he conceded that the tendinitis changed the way he snapped the football so that he could endure the pain.
"But it also gets into your psyche, having to do something different than you've done for eight years prior," he said. "So I think that was a hurdle last year that I struggled to overcome. Now that I feel better, it's kind of been business as usual."
Katula said after consulting several experts, he learned that the tendinitis was caused by repetition, using the same motion to launch the ball between his legs to Sam Koch for punts and field-goal attempts.
The organization sought to assist Katula by adding rookie Nick Sundberg to the practice squad and resting Katula during practice in an effort to preserve him for game days. But Katula said he never considered taking himself out of the equation for the remainder of the season.
"I wanted to play," he said. "I wanted to be a part of this team and help this team win. I would hate to think that I lost games for us. It was a hard thing to think about because they brought in a guy to help take reps off and the break was great, but it never got back to where I needed it to be. Only the offseason took care of that."
Special teams coordinator and assistant head coach Jerry Rosburg said he has noticed an improvement in Katula's play during the team's organized team activities and minicamps.
"I think every player that doesn't play up to his own expectations is challenged by that, and I think Matt is not different," Rosburg said. "He's had a real positive attitude all the way through offseason beginning in March when we started working together. He's had a good offseason, and he's snapping well now. It's good to get back."
When he was peppered by the media about his wayward snaps, Katula accepted the blame. Koch, who is one of Katula's closest friends on the team, said that's typical of his friend.
"He's one of those guys who, if you have a little ache, you just deal with it," Koch said. "It's one of those things that he kept on having, and he tried to let it heal. Now we're here. But he never really talked about it."
Katula, whose pursuit of perfection is embodied by the name of his foundation's website, perfectlaces.com, said he has several goals this season -- including one that involves the media.
"My approach this season is to stay out of the papers," he said with a laugh. "I love you guys, but last year was kind of a rude awakening when you see your name in an article that's not about Matt Stover. That's the goal this year, to go out and do my job and earn back the trust of the guys upstairs. I don't think I've lost the trust in the locker room, but I just want to prove to everybody that I didn't go mental and lose it."
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