Tyler Clutts believed his best chance to make it to the NFL would be to learn as many skill sets as possible. Why else would a high school player go to the trouble of learning how to long snap? But even now, Clutts admits that the chance of ever actually long snapping in a game was definitely remote.
"I don't know now that I'm looking back on this, why I decided it would be something useful to learn," Clutts said. "I went to camps dedicated to that specialty. The end result, however, was that I ended up a a backup. Even in college I never once was called on. I think one time with the arena team I played for I short snapped a few times but that was it."
Before the NFL draft, Clutts demonstrated his technique for pro scouts. Unfortunately things didn't go well.
"I'm pretty sure you can read about it online," he said. "I completely blew out that session. I figured my career at anything but a fullback was over."
When Clutts signed with the Bears in September, he thought his snapping skills would go overlooked. After all, Patrick Mannelly, one of the league's best long snappers, has been a fixture in Chicago for more than 13 seasons. Clutts also knew that Mannelly rarely missed a game. Everything changed when Mannelley went down with a knee injury in the second quarter of Sunday's 31-20 win over the San Diego Chargers.
"All of a sudden I got a tap on my shoulder," he said. "Then they told me I'd be replacing Pat. I was sure that I heard wrong. I kept asking the guys around me if they understood that the way I had. The next thing I knew the coaches were telling me to take a few practice snaps. 'A few,' I said while shaking my head. This was in the middle of an important NFL game. Frankly, I was terrified."
Clutts had been prepared for this possibility during practice last week as part of the team's regular practice routine. But the number of snaps he'd been given were few.
"Maybe one or two when I wasn't out there running or blocking," Clutts recalled. "Certainly it wasn't enough to feel comfortable in the situation I now found myself."
Yet by the end of the half, Clutts was right there, snapping like a veteran.
"The saving grace was the fact that I was also running around on the other plays. I was so busy doing what I normally do in the course of a game that I didn't have time to stop and think. If [I had had time to think] I'd have been terrified. And from experience I know that when you're nervous bad things happen."
Clutts performed flawlessly, as he has done for most of the season no matter where the Bears play him. He also had a pass reception for nine yards and a was effective as a lead blocker all game long.
Is there anything Clutts can't do?
"Hey, I'm just a work in progress," he said. "I go out and try to execute, to do what the team needs. I think running, blocking, catching and now long snapping are about my limits though. You won't see me rushing the passer anytime soon. I'm happy to stay on my side of the ball."
Mannelly was placed on injured reserve today with a torn ACL, so it looks like Clutts' career as a long snapper is just beginning.
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.