By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 6, 2007
The transition process wasn't as smooth as Washington Redskins defensive end Andre Carter figured it would be last season. Carter left behind everything familiar to him in the NFL after five seasons with San Francisco, and then started slowly while learning how the Redskins do things.
But after coaches pulled him aside in the middle of the season for an it's-time-to-turn-it-up pep talk, Carter eventually adjusted to his surroundings. His turnaround has continued through the first three games this season, with the pass-rush specialist again applying pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Carter is finally comfortable in Washington's defensive scheme, saying it makes sense to him now.
Of course, it's still too early to determine whether Washington's defensive unit has improved after struggling in 2006. And although Carter is tied for the team lead with two sacks, the Redskins, who lack depth at defensive end, need him to regain the double-digit sack form he had early in his career with the 49ers.
Beginning tomorrow against Detroit at FedEx Field, Washington plays games in 13 consecutive weeks until the end of the regular season. Questions will soon be answered about the defense, and Carter's performance could help to provide the difference in its success or failure.
"You can always do more, there's always room for improvement, so I'm never going to settle for my last performance," Carter said. "I'm never going to feel satisfied no matter what I did last week. Every week is always kind of like an adventure; you don't know what's going to happen.
"But what it all boils down to is that you're the one who wakes up every day and has to look in the mirror and say: 'Did I do my best? Did I give what it takes to be a professional? Did I give what it takes to be an athlete? Did I give what it takes to be a Redskin?' When I look in the mirror, I know I did."
In his disappointing start last season, Carter had only three sacks in his first 13 games. His sack in this season's opening victory over Miami gave him four in his past four games.
Carter also sacked New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning and forced a fumble (the Redskins recovered the ball and scored a touchdown) in the first quarter of a 24-17 loss Sept. 23 at FedEx Field. Carter has graded out well after games, coaches said, and earned accolades in defensive line meetings for consistently pressuring opposing quarterbacks, forcing them to have to move and readjust before throwing the ball.
Given his effort and conditioning, Carter could be "inches away from a big game," one member of the staff said recently. At the very least, Carter is off to the type of start Coach Joe Gibbs and Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense, hoped he would have in his second season.
"He's off to a real good start this year," Gibbs said. "From what I saw being around him last year, he gets better as the year goes because he's in such great condition; most guys will wear down. He's obviously more accustomed to what we're doing, and he and Gregg have a great relationship."
Carter, 28, was part of the 2006 free agent class that also included wide receiver Antwaan Randle El. Carter's father, Rubin, a longtime NFL defensive tackle, coached Washington's defensive line for two seasons (1999 and 2000), so he had a connection to the organization.
About $10 million in guaranteed money prompted Carter to end the free agent process. He arrived in Washington after a successful five-year career with the 49ers (he had 32 sacks, including a career-high 12 1/2 in 2002), figuring he'd make a seamless transition in his new workplace.
But many factors contributed to his steep learning curve.
After Carter played as a hand-down end his first four seasons, San Francisco's coaching staff switched him to a stand-up linebacker position in 2005. Needing a speed rusher, the Redskins moved Carter back to an end spot, but it took him a while to learn the intricate defensive scheme Williams ran last season. And switching coasts with his wife and daughter was a new experience as well.
"People look at it like, 'Oh, that's just football,' but it's a real job," said former Redskins player and coach Ray Brown. "There are stresses and strains in making that transition. He was introduced to pro football out there [in San Francisco] and the whole style is completely different here."
Carter tried to be patient, but it wasn't easy.
"You have to take it one day at a time," he said. "You can't look at the overall perspective of the whole craft of whatever you're doing. You've just got to constantly work on it each and every day and focus on it mentally.
"I constantly studied and asked questions and tried to do what the coaches asked me to do. In a new scheme, you've got to still get an understanding about down and distance, how the man next to you works . . . it's a process. It just doesn't happen overnight."
Williams and defensive line coach Greg Blache offered encouragement throughout last season, and increased their efforts during the bye week after the seventh game, Carter said.
"They just said, 'Go,' he said. "Let it all go. Just see the ball and go. From then on, I saw a better level of progress than the little baby steps I was taking."