Carter meets a test of strength — and conquers it

By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 29, 2009

In January, defensive end Andre Carter packed away his season and left Ashburn, determined to never repeat it.

Carter had managed only four sacks, the fewest he'd posted in any season in which he'd been healthy. His 37 tackles marked his fewest since 2004. And one year after forcing four fumbles, last season he caused none.

"It was just one of those years where it wasn't working out," Carter said of 2008, "no matter how hard I seemed to play or try."

Back home in San Jose, Carter made a request of the Redskins' video department: He wanted tape of every down he played in that difficult 2008 season. He'd review it. He'd ask his father, a former NFL player and longtime coach, to study it. And he'd have John Palermo, the team's defensive line coach, dissect it as well.

The results are tough to question. Ten games into the 2009 season -- Carter's ninth in the league -- he has doubled his sack total from last season. Entering Sunday's game at Philadelphia, he's two sacks shy of the third double-digit season of his career. He leads all NFL defensive linemen with 45 tackles -- including a team-best eight tackles for loss -- and has already forced three fumbles, fourth most in the league.

When Carter reviewed tape of his 2008 season, he knew change was in order. At 30 years old, he needed to play younger, which meant he needed to train younger. And that meant that after nearly a decade in the league, Carter had to go all the way back to the beginning.

* * *

In the spring of 2001, the buzz around the combine was that the highly touted senior from the University of California -- an exceedingly polite kid with a football pedigree -- was too light to play defensive end. Carter's college coaches listed him at 6 feet 4, 265 pounds. But when NFL coaches put him on a scale, he was barely 250.

His stock was falling and the second round seemed like an increasingly likely destination. Rubin Carter had hired a personal trainer named Thomas Weatherspoon to prepare his son for the NFL scouting combine, and Weatherspoon was insistent that his young pupil work on his speed rather than piling more muscle and mass on a sleek, tapered frame.

Rubin Carter's oft-repeated comparison then and now is, "I'm like a Sherman tank, he's like a jet fighter."

The elder Carter had played 12 seasons with the Denver Broncos at nose tackle, from 1975 to '86, and was a key component of the feared Orange Crush defense. But at 6 feet, 256 pounds, he's always been stockier, stouter than his son.

Andre Carter's development was methodical. He didn't play football until his sophomore year in high school. As a child, he swung a tennis racket and studied taekwondo instead. His father introduced him to the weight room nine months before Carter's first football season began. Then and now, if football games are Carter's Sunday mistress, daily retreats into the gym are the reliable, constant companion.

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