For Andre Carter, the 2011 NFL season has represented a renaissance. Released by the Redskins in March, Carter signed this offseason with the New England Patriots and now ranks ninth in the league with nine sacks.

Carter had his best year as a Redskin in 2009, recording 11 sacks to lead the team, along with Brian Orakpo. But when Coach Mike Shanahan took over the following offseason and directed the change to a 3-4 defense, Carter had to switch from defensive end to outside linebacker.

Unaccustomed to rushing out of a two-point stance and having to drop back in pass coverage on tight ends, Carter struggled. He became a part-time player and mustered only 2.5 sacks last season.

“Andre’s more comfortable in a 4-3 defensive scheme, there’s no question about it,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said of Carter, who will return to the FedEx Field with the Patriots on Sunday. “Andre asked to be released because he understood we were going to the 3-4 and he understood that if he was used, it [only would be] in passing situations or nickel situations. We granted him his wish. But you talk about a class act, a guy that’s taken advantage of an opportunity. I’ve always been pulling for Andre Carter.”

Carter visited the New York Giants during the offseason, but ultimately decided to sign with the Patriots, who were switching to the 4-3 defense and offered him the opportunity to return to his natural position. Carter has obviously thrived.

“It’s fun, man,” Carter said on a conference call Wednesday. “This is something I’ve done for a long period of time. Just for Coach Belichick and the Patriots organization to take a chance on me, [I just want] to go out there and just try my best to be productive or just to try my best to play a great game with great teammates.”

Carter had his best game of the season four weeks ago when he recorded four sacks against the New York Jets. Carter said he was “just playing hard like every other game,” and said the performance ranks among one of many blessings he has experienced this season.

“In all, I was just blessed to have an opportunity to play another season and play a few more downs and in general, just play for a great organization,” Carter says.

Although he has only followed the Redskins’ 2011 season from afar, Carter believes that Shanahan is on his way toward turning the franchise around.

“I think he’s headed in the right direction,” Carter said. “Unfortunately, winning doesn’t come overnight. I’m a firm believer that they do have the right group of guys, a great level of character to turn this thing around. Unfortunately, it’s going to take a little bit of time, but overall, as far as fundamentals, I think the guys in particular in the Redskins organization, they understand that. So it’s coming along. It’s unfortunate, but I know good things are coming their way.”