Lovie Smith and Sean Payton have a lot on their minds this week. Eventually, though, either the head coach of the Bears or the Saints will have to get around to filling out the NFC roster for the Feb. 10 Pro Bowl game in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Whichever coach is entrusted with that job--the loser in the NFC Championship Game--ought to take a serious look at the Redskins' Ethan Albright in terms of representing the conference as the long snapper if that need exists.
The 6-5, 265-pound Albright, signed by the Redskins last week for his seventh season in Washington, has earned it. He plays his specialty position as well as any of his peers, much better than most, and he's done so for a very long time.
The NFC has named centers Olin Kreutz of the Bears and Matt Birk of the Vikings for Pro Bowl status. Neither is a long snapper by trade, though. Therefore, the NFC could name a long snapper as its "player of need."
It seems unlikely that either Birk or Kreutz would be asked to serve as long snapper for the game.
The importance of the long snapper's role and his ability to work with his holder has been accentuated throughout this year's playoffs, such as in the Wild Card round when Dallas was dealt a shocking loss at Seattle.
Tony Romo failed to hold onto a snap from L.P. Ladoceur. While Romo receiver the bulk of the blame, the sequence overall pointed out the significance of the snapper-holder exchange. Every time something like that which doomed the Cowboys happens, a dependable snapper like Albright stands out even more.
No one can really remember a snap of his that was not on its target. Holders, punters and field goal kickers have been saying for years that his reliable snaps have made their jobs somewhat easier.
"We're glad to have Ethan on this team--that's for sure," said Redskins special teams coach Danny Smith. "His consistency is phenomenal. Plus, he's a consummate professional."
Albright hasn't missed a game since the start of the 1995 season while becoming known as one of the best and most consistent long snappers in the game.
"You know what, I'm living a dream playing in the NFL," he said last season. "I'm still going strong. I've got plenty of years left in me. My position is fine. I can handle that.
"To some extent I guess my job is black and white--either I got the job done or I didn't. There's no gray area. If we get the kick executed, I've done my job."
Added center Casey Rabach: "Nobody outside the team understands how much we appreciate Ethan. That guy is basically automatic each and every play."
A North Carolina native, Albright began learning the technique of long snapping in his youth. He earned first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors at North Carolina before signing with Miami as an undrafted free agent in 1994.
He saw limited action with the Dolphins in his first two years and was waived. But he signed with the Bills in training camp before the 1996 season and was immediately tapped as their long snapper on all kicks.
The red-haired Albright played in all 16 games in each of the next five seasons and earned recognition as one of the league's most talented players at his position.
The Redskins signed Albright as a free agent in March 2001 to shore up one of the team's lingering problems, inconsistency with long snaps, and No. 71 hasn't missed an opportunity since.
"I learned the hard way not to get hurt because you get replaced quickly," he said. "A real key for me is that I've been fortunate with my health."
Last year, Mike Bartrum of the Eagles represented the NFC but he's not an option this time. Bartrum's career is in jeopardy because of a serious neck injury he sustained. The AFC's long snapper a year ago was Mike Schneck of Pittsburgh.
Left tackle Chris Samuels is the only Redskin headed to Hawaii this year. One of these years, the NFC ought to recognize Albright as perhaps the game's best long snapper and send him to the Pro Bowl.