FLOWERY BRANCH — Long snapper Josh Harris, an undrafted rookie from Auburn and Carrollton, beat out veteran Joe Zelenka for one of the key special teams positions when the team trimmed the roster down to 53 players.
He’s set to open the season against the Chiefs at 1 p.m. Sunday in Kansas City.
“When I found out I was really excited just to think that all the hard work and dedication and support from my family and friends that had gone into this process had paid off,” Harris said. “To achieve a childhood dream of mine like this really means a lot to me and it’s really special. I’ve made the team now, it’s time to just go out there and focus on my job.”
By going with Harris over Zelenka, the Falcons, who are up against the salary cap, saved $480,883.
“His velocity on the ball is extremely good,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “Not only on the long snaps, but [also] on the short snaps. He’s a guy who can get it back there very quickly.”
It was a tough decision for the franchise.
“You have a guy like Joe Zelenka, who’s a top notch person and a very talented snapper against a young guy who was really driven to work very, very hard at developing and he did develop over the offseason and into the spring and into this preseason,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “It was another battle that went right down to the very, very end. We just decided that it was in the best interest for the long-term success of this team that we went with Josh over Joe.”
Harris and Zelenka were closely evaluated.
“It’s all about handling times and working on splits on how you’re going to get the ball from the center to the holder, how the holder is going to get it to the tee and how the kicker is going to kick,” Smith said. “On a punt, there are certain parameters that you’re going to look at.”
Normally, no one talks to the long snapper unless there is a bad snap. They don’t like to be popular media guys.
“I just have to go out there do what I’m here to do,” Harris said. “I have to provide for this team, not only as a teammate, but I have to go out there and be the snapper.”
Harris just tried to keep a level head and perform during training camp.
“What they were really looking for was just consistency and showing that I could do it,” Harris said. “Coming out of college, we ran a spread-punt formation that didn’t require me to block or anything like that. They were looking at that too, just because it was so much different than it was in college. I think I did a pretty good job there. Those were just some of the things they were looking at. I just need to keep getting better every day.”
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