COLUMNS

What will determine who wins the Broncos’ long-snapping battle in practice?

Oct 14, 2022, 9:15 PM | Updated: Oct 15, 2022, 1:16 pm
Long snappers...
Photos by Dylan Buell / Getty Images and Stacy Revere / Getty Images

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In the insular, specialized culture of long snappers, just about everyone knows each other. So, almost every competition becomes one among friends — or at least professional acquaintances.

For the two practice-squad snappers battling to fill in for the injured Jacob Bobenmoyer, it’s a friendship. Michell Fraboni and Joe Fortunato have been at plenty of the same tryouts and specialized long-snapper camps over the years, specifically the ones conducted by former Vikings, Ravens and Cardinals special-teams coordinator Gary Zauner.

“We all know each other,” Fraboni said. “I’ve tried out with dudes that I know. I see him all the time at different workouts. You always catch up. But when it’s time to compete, you’re competing.”

Both Fraboni and Fortunato have toiled around the fringes of pro football for a while. Fraboni’s college career at Arizona State ended in 2017. Fortunato matriculated at Delaware, concluding his college playing days in 2015.

Fortunato is on his fourth NFL team, but hasn’t played in a regular-season game. Fraboni spent part of the 2021 offseason with the Houston Texans, but also played two seasons in The Spring League and was the long snapper for the USFL’s Pittsburgh Maulers last spring.

For whoever wins the practice snapping derby, this is a life-changing opportunity.

But every day throughout the week is fraught with pressure — figurative and literal.

Broncos special-teams coordinator Dwayne Stukes said that he and his assistant, Mike Mallory, put Fortunato and Fraboni into “adverse situations” during practice.

“Rush the heck out of ’em,” Stukes said. “It’ll be 8-man fronts. It’ll be 9-man fronts where we’ll run twists,” Stukes said. “We’ll try to confuse their eyes, to see how disciplined they are. All that type of stuff — the same thing we did with Bobenmoyer.

“You got to test those guys in the ‘A’ gaps, you have to test them with twists to see how to respond to that and to see if they can get down the middle of their man and protect. That’s what we’re looking for.”

As for the actual snapping itself?

“Snapping should be easy for them because they’ve done it their whole life,” Stukes said. “It’s the protection part that gets some guys in trouble.”

Indeed, that caused a problem last week for Bobenmoyer. Indianapolis’ Grover Stewart surged through the A-gap between Bobenmoyer and Graham Glasgow to block a Brandon McManus field-goal attempt.

“It shouldn’t have happened. The snapper [Bobenmoyer] and the right guard [Glasgow] could have done a better job at protecting, but it wasn’t something that was schemed up. It definitely wasn’t a scheme-type situation. It was penetration by a bigger guy in the ‘A’ gap,” Stukes said.

“He got his hands up and he blocked the kick. It shouldn’t happen again.”

Preventing that is a reason why the Broncos will try to be thorough. Fraboni, for one, embraces the physicality required.

“I love to hit,” the former high-school linebacker and defensive lineman said.

“When I grew up, my mom told me, ‘You’re either the hammer or the nail,'” he added a moment later. “So, you’re either hitting or getting hit. For me, I like to keep that defensive mentality. I’ve always loved football. This is my passion.”

But that being said, Stukes noted the winner will be the one who is the more consistent.

“That’s what this this ballgame is about, it’s about consistency in everything you do. It’s about performing at a high level, I’ll keep saying that. The guy who performs [in practice] at the best visibility will be the guy that wins the job.”

And for Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett — a former long snapper — performance comes down to three attributes.

“I think for us and most snappers, the most important thing is the accuracy, the velocity and blocking,” he said. “Those are the things you want to have first,” he said. “You have the other guys that can cover, but if you have that dimension down the field, that’s always an added bonus.”

And that’s how the Broncos will try and find separation between two friends working on a single, specialized skill.

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What will determine who wins the Broncos’ long-snapping battle in practice?