Friendship Fuels Specialists' Success
Friendship Fuels Specialists' Success
Monday, August 24, 2009
By Nick Wagoner
For as easy and automatic as they make their jobs look on Sundays, there’s a lot more to the work put in by punter Donnie Jones, long snapper Chris Massey and kicker Josh Brown than the average person might think.
From the time spent in the weight room where Massey is among the strongest players on the team to the practice field where the trio perfects their respective crafts, the one thing they all know is that they can’t be the best trio of specialists in the NFL without one another.
That’s why, at nearly every opportunity, Jones, Massey and Brown spend as much time together as they can both on and off the field. For all the God given talent they’ve each been blessed with, none of it would matter were it not for the chemistry they forge on hunting trips, family vacations and the daily ribbing and pranks they pull on each other.
“We try to have a close personal relationship and that just carries over on to the field to what we do,” Massey said. “It makes things a lot easier, a lot smoother and it feels like we are a well oiled machine all the way around. All the nervousness and questioning each other, that’s not there with us. I know Donnie has got my back and Josh has both our backs. These guys, I just go out and do the best I can and contribute to their success and hopefully they make me look as good as I make them look.”
At the risk of jinxing a streak of unparalleled consistency, it says here that Massey is the NFL’s most dependable player that most people have never heard of.
Drafted in the seventh round of the 2002 NFL Draft, Massey is now one of the Rams’ elder statesman and the third longest-tenured Ram.
In his seven seasons in the league, Massey has gone six seasons without botching a snap. For his career, Massey has snapped the ball 841 times. Only once (Dec. 11, 2006 in Chicago for the record) has he misfired and he is carrying a streak of 312 consecutive perfect snaps.
That kind of consistency has made Massey exactly the type of player he wants to be: anonymous.
“I take pride in people not knowing my name,” Massey said. “If you know my name it means I am not doing my job right.”
There is no glamour to Massey’s position and very little glory. Much like an offensive lineman blocking for a 1,500-yard rusher, Massey gets his glory from helping Jones and Brown reach their goals.
The reality is that without a good snap, a kicker and punter has little chance for success. A good snap is often considered one good enough to be kicked without getting blocked.
But Massey has left a legacy of snapping the ball with enough velocity and accuracy to leave little doubt whether the ball is going to be booted.
Take Jones for example. After working with a cavalcade of punters his first five years in the league, the Rams finally signed Jones to a long term contract. That allowed Massey to actually get to know one of the guys he’s snapping to and the results have been astounding.
In 2008, Jones became the first punter in NFL history to average 50 gross yards and 40 net yards per punt. He attributes much of that success to Massey’s uncanny ability to put the ball in nearly the same spot every time.
“He is the key to my success,” Jones said. “By being as consistent as he is I never have to move for the ball. It enables the timing to be pretty much the same every time. I have been around some good snappers and this guy is the best. It makes my job a lot easier when you’ve got the ball in the same place every time.”
That holds true for Brown as well. Unlike Jones, Brown has to rely on both Massey and Jones for his process to work properly. Massey handles the snaps, Jones places the ball and Brown knocks it through the uprights.
It’s not as easy as one, two, three; it just seems that way from watching the group execute it time and time again. Brown had a prolific season of his own in 2008, scoring 112 points on 31-of-36 field goal tries and made all 19 of his extra point attempts. Included in that was six conversions from 50 yards or more.
Brown attributes that success to the relationship the trio has developed on and off the field.
“I think it determines as successful as we are going to be,” Brown said. “You can’t be successful without it I don’t think. If I didn’t trust Massey to get the ball to Donnie and I didn’t trust Donnie enough knowing the ball is going to be there, I’d second guess myself. If I didn’t get to see how Chris works at his job or how Donnie works at holding and punting, I wouldn’t take them seriously. Being around them all that time, it enables you to come into a game with a lot of confidence.”
And when Brown says all the time, he pretty much means it. During practices, Massey, Jones and Brown can often be found on a field separate from the offense and defense working on their respective skills.
Of course, the business first attitude that (mostly) rules on the practice field is nowhere to be found when the time to focus on football has passed.
Perhaps more than any group of players in the locker room, the jokes and ribbing that occurs among Jones, Massey and Brown is unmatched. Maybe it’s because they have a bit more free time than the rest of their teammates or because they have such specialized gigs.
Whatever the reason there’s no denying that Jones, Massey and Brown’s bond has a direct correlation to their success on the field.
That relationship is the reason Jones and Massey’s families traveled to Destin, Fla. for vacation in 2008. It’s why Massey took Brown to southern Illinois last year to teach him how to bow hunt.
More often than not, though, it’s why the three are constantly, relentlessly teasing each other about something.
According to Jones, he is regularly the target of his teammates’ ire. Apparently, Jones has a reputation for not having the best travel gear when it’s time for the Rams to go on a road trip.
“His travel gear is the worst I have ever seen,” Massey said. “We are talking like Greg Norman golf polos, slacks and Italian black leather shoes he wears. It’s pretty good. I thought he was wearing it to joke with people. It would be so bad, we would rip on him so much that he would actually get to the city we are playing in he would actually buy a new shirt to wear home on the plane ride. And it would be just as bad as the one before.”
“He’s the final member of Members Only,” Brown added.
That doesn’t mean Brown and Massey are off limits, either. Jones and Massey love to tease Brown about his hunting prowess (or lack of) or his various appearances in the newspaper, on television or on the cover of magazines.
Brown’s cameo on the front of a local magazine proclaiming the benefits of his workout regiment is a particular favorite of Massey and Jones when looking for ammunition.
“Every time I get down or depressed, I look at that and it brings me back,” Massey said.
The quiet and humble Massey is a little more difficult to target but that doesn’t mean he gets off clean.
Massey is one of the strongest Rams on the team. But Jones and Brown maintain Massey’s success in the weight room is due in part to the fact that he never gets full extension on his repetitions.
“It’s like a quarter press,” Jones said. “I am doing like 375 all the way out. I’m sure if I did a quarter I could do more.”
For all the fun and games that take place off the field, at the end of the day it’s that bond that ultimately brings it all back together for a trio that doesn’t get the credit it deserves.
“The operation of those three guys on field goals and (Massey) and Donnie on the punts is really important,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “I think those three guys do a nice job and work well together.”
In reality, it’s not just the trio of Massey, Jones and Brown that need to have that chemistry on Sundays in order for the team to be successful. It’s that team building mentality that Spagnuolo has preached from the day he arrived.
That means when Jones is being snubbed for the Pro Bowl, Massey and Brown are every bit as upset as he is. It means when Brown kicks a game winning field goal to beat Washington, Jones and Massey are just as excited as he is.
You look at the teams in the past, the chemistry these teams have had,” Brown said. “You realize the importance of team chemistry and the importance of making friends and caring about the people that are on the other side of the ball and going to battle with you. And it takes that to go a whole 16 weeks and four more weeks into a Super Bowl to be successful. None of these guys are running around as perfect strangers. I think that’s good for our group.
“We have set ourselves in a foundation now that if we can stay here together for 10 years, 12 years, we are going to be really successful. There’s no arrogance about it. We are going to be good.”