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Longwell Begins Support Of Sander


It isn't hard for Ryan Longwell to remember what happened the last time the Green Bay Packers selected a specialist in the third round of the NFL Draft.

Back in the summer of 1997, it was Brett Conway's struggles as a third-round pick out of Penn State that allowed Longwell to slip under the radar and take the kicking job he's held ever since.

That's why when Longwell learned that the Packers drafted Ohio State punter B.J. Sander with their third third-round pick of the 2004 draft last weekend, he decided not to wait until mini-camp to exchange pleasantries.

After watching Conway struggle under the immense pressure of being a draft pick seven years ago, Longwell wants to make sure Sander doesn't carry the same load heading into 2004.

"I think he has the benefit of having me around to warn him about (the media) and shield him from the fishbowl that this place can be," said Longwell, who phoned the rookie Sunday to introduce himself. "I saw Brett come in here and immediately he was shaking from (the media attention) and the amount of pressure that was on him.

"I'm a pretty easygoing guy as it is. I can kind of help him also along those lines just being a good sounding board for him ...

"I think it's a big transition, but the guy is extremely talented. And you'd have to be an idiot not to know that there's going to be pressure on you."

Sander will have to start dealing with that pressure Friday, when rookies report to mini-camp.

The reigning Ray Guy Award winner as the nation's top collegiate punter, Sander will be battling former Cincinnati Bengal Travis Dorsch for the job vacated by Josh Bidwell, who signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last month.

Over the years, Longwell and Bidwell have become close friends -- a bond formed in their Oregon roots, their love of golf and their Christian faith.

But while Longwell admitted Friday he would miss his old locker room neighbor, he had nothing but positive things to say about Sander, who will do more than stand side by side with Longwell during training camp practices.

In addition to his punting duties, Sander could very well end up being Longwell's holder on field goal and extra point attempts.

Over the past three seasons, that job has been held by backup quarterback Doug Pederson. But Pederson's future with the team has to be considered in question, what with the development of Craig Nall and the potential that the team could strike a deal to acquire Cleveland Browns quarterback Tim Couch.

The backup holder the past four years was Bidwell. But now Longwell will be forced to develop a new tandem.

"There's no doubt, the single most important factor in my success is the snap and the hold," said Longwell, who was a perfect 51-of-51 on PATs last year, while going 23-for-26 on field goal attempts.

"I was obviously sad to see Josh go because he was my backup holder ... (but) B.J. can hold and so I was happy we picked him up. We'll see how that pans out."

While it would be easy to dismiss holding as a simple task, Longwell said that the relationship between kicker and holder can take years to develop, suggesting that the he and Pederson continue to improve their rapport each season.

Longwell isn't concerned that he can't adjust to a new holder, but he's aware it might take time.

"I tell the story that (former holder) Matt Hasselbeck always missed the spot an inch in front of where the spot was," Longwell said, referring to the placement of the football. "But the thing was, he did it every single time, so I was so used to it that we were fine.

"Doug is just smooth as can be ... so I have supreme confidence that I can swing away and the ball is always going to be there. And obviously I don't have that confidence in anybody else, so that's the thing you need to build through mini-camps and training camp.

"Guys need to be good at it. There's a lot riding on every time you go on the field as a kicker, so you don't want to break somebody in who has never done it before."

Of course, a rookie has to start somewhere. Sander will start Friday.

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