Ethan Albright had been with the Redskins only one season when the team last brought in a player to challenge him at long snapper. That was in 2002, when seventh-round draft choice Jeff Grau never came close to ousting Albright.
But the way Albright sees it, whether former Tennessee Titans snapper Jeremy Cain is on Washington's roster or not, he's competing every day against anyone else with the ability to hurl the ball accurately backward through his legs.
In fact, Albright is less nervous about Cain's presence at Redskin Park than he is about his oldest child's upcoming softball debut.
"I've been the only guy in camp [the past six years], but I've never looked at it like that," said Albright, who attended the NFL's post-football seminar at Northwestern this month, just as he did at Harvard in 2006 and Cain did at Penn in 2007. "In my position, you don't have to learn a big playbook. They can make a switch anytime. If they feel like there's somebody out there better than you, they're going to make a switch."
While Albright turns 38 in May, there was no apparent drop-off in his game in 2008 after a Pro Bowl season in 2007. But the way the Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the New York Giants last fall - snapper Greg Warren was injured and linebacker James Harrison, the emergency fill-in, botched a late snap - caused the Redskins to sign an alternative to Albright beyond offensive tackle Jon Jansen, who snapped at Michigan in the late 1990s, and tight end Chris Cooley, who snaps for fun in practice.
"After what happened to Pittsburgh, I think every team started saying, 'What's our next option?' " Albright said. "Jeremy seems like a nice guy. But I feel like I'm still playing at a high level. I feel like if I play like I've done before, I'll be here. I feel good. In my mind, I can go as long as the team lets me."
Cain, 29, thought he was in that position in Tennessee after playing linebacker and fullback as well as snapping for the Titans in 2007. However, he was cut last summer and didn't catch on elsewhere before the Redskins signed him.
"I knew that Ethan was here and he's very well-respected around the league, but I still saw it as an opportunity," Cain said. "I'll do whatever they ask and try to make the most of it. I was a linebacker my freshman year of high school when the coach asked if anyone wanted to snap. The same thing happened at UMass. The coach, Mark Whipple, told me it was an opportunity to add to my resume."
Cain made the Bears as a rookie free agent linebacker in 2005, but he didn't come close to parlaying his college stardom into a spot in the lineup alongside Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. But with plenty of help from Chicago snapper Patrick Mannelly, he refined his long-snapping technique.
"As a snapper, you've got be consistently good and occasionally great," Cain said.
That's a good description of Albright's eight years with the Redskins.
"I've done the job they've asked me to do, and I've worked hard at it," Albright said. "And I've been available. I haven't had injuries. I haven't missed time. I've been here for nine years, but I look at it like... one year at a time."
And Albright wasn't kidding when he said he's more worried about 10-year-old daughter Gracey pitching for the Pink Panthers of Ashburn next month than his own situation.
"My palms are already sweating for Gracey's first game, which isn't until mid-April," Albright said. "She's tall for her age and she throws it fast, but I'm way more nervous for my kid to have an issue than I am snapping in a playoff game. I can handle that. I've done that. I've trained for that. She's just learning, and I don't know if she can handle it."