Besides birthdays and anniversaries, there are two dates that Morgan Cox can readily recite.
One is Dec. 26, 2010, when the Ravens long snapper tore the ACL in his left knee during a field-goal attempt against the Cleveland Browns.
The other is Oct. 19, 2014, when he tore the ACL in his right knee during a punt against the Atlanta Falcons.
There was nothing nefarious about either injury, but they stand out to Cox simply because, as a long snapper, he’s not usually in the line of fire. But at his position, he does have the unenviable task of trying to snap the ball while his head is between his legs.
So Cox was understandably heartened to learn that the NFL has made the protection of long snappers a point of emphasis this season. Along with quarterbacks and runners who give themselves up, snappers will be watched closely by officials, who have been instructed to be vigilant about hits to the head or neck.
According to the NFL’s Football Operations website, “While there is no rule change, the Officiating Department will emphasize in 2018 that fouls are called when defenders initiate contact to the head or neck area of the snapper.”
“There is a moment in time when our heads are between our legs,” said Cox, 32, who has been with the Ravens since joining them as an undrafted rookie in 2010. “It’s just the nature of the position. When I first got in the league, they made significant protections for us where guys just couldn’t tee off on you. That was the biggest improvement, and I’m happy with those guys widening out on the field goals, because that initially helps me in protection. I tore my ACL on a similar play where guys hit that A-gap, and it collapsed my knee. So I would say that from a personal aspect, I’m glad to get a little more protection that way.”
Special teams coordinator and associate head coach Jerry Rosburg lauded league officials for addressing coordinators’ concerns.
“My understanding is, there’s going to be less of a fine line for penalties,” he said. “Some of the things that were happening to our snappers, they’re not going to allow because they’re going to call the contact to the head on snap differently than they have before. It’s not just going to elbow-, shoulder- and helmet-to-helmet. It’s going to be any contact to the helmet that’s forceful. It’s going to be officiated more closely.”
Rosburg said it was not difficult for him and his coaching brethren to come to a consensus about protecting their long snappers. “We only have one,” he said. “So we’re all in favor of it.”
While Cox is grateful for the greater scrutiny from officials, he also half-joked that he does not want to be treated like a player wearing a red no-contact jersey.
“It’s football,” he said. “When I’m on the field, I’ve got a helmet and shoulder pads, and I know that on any given play, somebody’s going to try to hit me and I’m going to try to hit that other person. So I try to be ready and be aware on every play.”