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Two Long Snappers, Two Stories, One Spot With Cardinals

Veteran Brewer, rookie Shimko make case for key job

Long snappers Aaron Brewer (46) and Joe Shimko (47) take in a OTA in May.
Long snappers Aaron Brewer (46) and Joe Shimko (47) take in a OTA in May.

Unassuming, as an adjective, was made for Aaron Brewer.

The Cardinals long snapper, often wearing his ubiquitous bucket hat out on the practice field, does his job quietly and effectively for a long time – just like all the Cardinals' long snappers before him.

"Still almost disbelief I am still playing," said Brewer, who turns 34 next month as he tries to reach a 13th season.

There is competition. The Cardinals brought in undrafted rookie Joe Shimko – the nation's top long snapper at North Carolina State – to battle for the job. But real change at the position doesn't happen often.

Trey Junkin arrived during the 1996 season for the Cardinals and held the job through 2001. In 2002, Nathan Hodel took over and was the long snapper through the Super Bowl season of 2008. Mike Leach arrived as the anchor from 2009 through 2015.

There was an attempt to find a young long snapper in 2016 without a veteran. Kam Canaday beat out Danny Dillon for the job, but Canaday struggled the first month and the Cards replaced him with Brewer, who had already had a long stint with the Broncos.

"Usually you see snappers get a chance and they stick for 10 years," special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers said. "Or they are gone after 10 days."

Save for injury hiccups, Brewer has been in place. He was in Arizona before Rodgers arrived, but it was Rodgers who coached him in Denver.

"(Rodgers) is pretty much the only reason I'm here," Brewer said. "If he asks me to do it, I do it."

Kicker Matt Prater, for whom Brewer snapped on Prater's then-NFL record 64-yard field goal in Denver a decade ago, is Brewer's best friend.

But there are always other factors, and Shimko could be a guy who is at the outset of one of those long careers. When he won the Patrick Manley award for top long snapper, it crystallized the idea he could have a chance to play somewhere in the NFL.

Shimko said he's never had a bad snap, although for the job, "it's expected."

"I get to keep playing football, but for me, something that I can chase perfection at, that helps me even in life," Shimko said.

Unlike every other position on the roster, there is no long snapper backup. One or you're done, and both men know this. Brewer, coming off an injury last season, also had competition with Matt Hembrough, although Hembrough hurt his back in camp and never made a return.

"(Aaron) is a great guy," Shimko said. "I figured he might have a little attitude toward me, but I'd expect that. I wouldn't blame him if he had it. But he doesn't at all. He's a great teammate to have and an asset to me."

All snappers can snap by the time they get to the NFL, Rodgers said. It's their ability to protect that tilts the decisions. Some long snappers don't have to protect at all in college, although Shimko played in a system in which he did – helping his cause.

Both men know the stakes. Brewer just knows that while he didn't come to the Cardinals in 2016 in the best of circumstances, "I think I made the most of it."

"I'm glad I landed here and got to play as long as I have," Brewer said, "and I'll play as long as they want me here."

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