- The Washington Times - Friday, October 27, 2006

Ethan Albright thought his NFL career was over when Buffalo coach Marv Levy called his young backup offensive tackle out of stretching drills in the summer of 1997.

“I had already been cut four times and I think I’m going to be cut again,” Albright recalled. “Marv tells me, ‘Ethan, you’re not going to be one of our top eight linemen.’ I’m getting ready to walk out. Then he said, ‘We want you to focus on snapping. We want you to go to meetings and know what to do, but we don’t want you to practice at tackle and risk getting hurt.’ I didn’t know whether to do cartwheels or be upset. I wasn’t going to reach my first goal, but I was going to have a special job. Obviously, it turned out very well.”

It’s turned out so well that the 6-foot-5, 265-pound Albright still has that job nine years later. And his six seasons with the Washington Redskins are topped only by starting offensive tackles Chris Samuels and Jon Jansen.

Snappers, especially those who don’t practice at another position, take a lot of ribbing about their easy jobs, but even those teammates who tease Albright know how skilled he is at his job.

“I tell Ethan, ‘How can a punter be a better athlete than you?’ ” center Casey Rabach said. “Ethan used to be a lineman, but I don’t know how much athleticism is involved in snapping a ball. If Ethan can do it, I can do it. But seriously, he’s great at what he does. We never have to worry about snaps.”

Coach Joe Gibbs said: “We’ve got a real great situation there snapping the ball. Nobody can be any better than Ethan.”

That could be in part because the 35-year-old Albright has been snapping almost as long as he can remember.

“My brother Erik, who’s eight years older than me, snapped for the high school team and he would make me practice with him in the backyard,” Albright said. “I couldn’t just toss it to him. I had to bend over and snap it to him just the way he was snapping it to me. As a result, I was the only kid who could snap the whole way up starting in pee wee. But snapping was just something I did. I had the same dreams other guys did. I was a first-team all-ACC tackle [as a North Carolina senior]. I wanted to be an NFL lineman.”

Those dreams are long gone, but Albright might well outlast the rest of the draft class of 1994 despite having been cut five times. Albright has snapped to seven Redskins punters and the holders for seven Redskins kickers.

“I want to snap as long as they let me,” Albright said. “If Ray Brown can play guard in a playoff game at 43, surely I can snap for four or five more years.

“Coaches like knowing what they can count on. They know the snap is going to be accurate. They know it’s going to be 15 yards to the punter, 8 yards to the holder. I don’t run so great. I’m not going to make any superstar plays in punt coverage. Coaches can gameplan around the other stuff.”

Indeed, Redskins special teams coach Danny Smith is such a fan that he still agonizes over the fact that Bills general manager Tom Donahoe had decided to clear house on special teams when Smith was hired in 2001, preventing the coach from working with Albright then.

“It’s nice when you don’t have to worry about your snapper,” Smith said. “Ethan’s very smooth, very accurate. There’s no twitch. He’s natural. He understands the game. Anybody in the league would take him in a heartbeat.”

Others’ hearts might race with the adrenaline of the moment, but after nearly three decades, snapping is almost as natural as breathing for Albright.

“It’s like shooting a free throw or driving a golf ball, there are probably 100 different ways to do it,” Albright said. “Whichever way feels good to you, you had better do it enough to be able to do it in your sleep. When I line up, my feet are going be one yard off the ball so when I bend over and reach out, I’ll be on the line of scrimmage. I focus in on my target whether it’s the punter’s hip or the holder’s hand. I block everything else out, spin the ball, follow through, hit the target and stay low.”

Albright, whose red hair stands out with his helmet off, is glad to maintain a low-profile with his helmet on.

“It’s hard to believe this is my sixth year here and that I’ve been here longer than anyone except Jon and Chris, but unless you’re a true fan, you have no idea who I am,” Albright said. “There’s no doubt I don’t want to be noticed. I look at it like I’m always one snap from unemployment. If it’s not right, I’m going to hear it from everybody. Since I all do is snap, one bad snap and I’m on the hot seat. Whether it’s practice, preseason or the playoffs, I try to make it perfect every time.”

It almost always is.

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