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A fitting result for Carter

Risky move leads to reward: comfortable Patriots spot

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / October 23, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH - At 31 years old, with 10 NFL seasons behind him, coming off his worst statistical year in a half-decade, and with the league lockout looming, Andre Carter walked into the Washington Redskins office and asked to be released.

From the outside, the decision was risky.

But Carter had the support of his wife, Bethany, and the knowledge that he was too set in his ways to continue playing outside linebacker in the Redskins’ new 3-4 system after spending his entire career as an undersized but effective defensive end.

Carter knew he had plenty of good snaps left in him, yet that didn’t make it any less nerve-racking.

Of course it was scary, Carter said.

“And as you know, the league is based upon production,’’ he said, “so I was really going on faith - faith in God and faith in my ability that I was going to get picked up.

“And of course it was scary, too, because of the whole lockout. I mean, as the lockout ended and teams were gathering their players together, there were a lot of guys that were my age that were vets that unfortunately didn’t get picked up. That was a real risk. There was a time where you’re kind of like, OK, I’m a little on the edge of my seat.

“I had a great wife that calmed my nerves and said, ‘Whatever happens, everything happens for a reason, you’ve just got to be optimistic. And if by chance you don’t play another down, you’ve had a great career.’

“And that’s something that I had to look at for myself.’’

Carter was part of the defensive lineman-rich 2001 draft, chosen seventh out of Cal by the 49ers. There were seven defensive linemen selected among the top 13 picks, including Richard Seymour, by the Patriots. (Bill Belichick has a particular affinity for that class: of those linemen, five have passed through New England.)

Carter was an immediate starter in San Francisco, and parlayed his solid work there into a six-year contract with the Redskins before the 2006 season. He fit well with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’s scheme, collecting 10 1/2 sacks in his second year.

He continued to start until last year, when coach Mike Shanahan opted to switch to a 3-4. Carter didn’t like the move, but by all accounts did everything he could to learn his new responsibilities as an outside linebacker.

“It was never a fit, from the jump,’’ he said. “Just that transition from being an edge rusher, run-stopper, with my hand in the dirt, things of that nature, to covering tight ends and receivers and being in certain areas of coverage. I did it, but it wasn’t for me.

“As a professional, I never complained. I did my due diligence, constantly asked questions, but at the end of the day, you just have to know what’s best for you.’’

Time to move on

He asked to be cut, and the Redskins agreed. On his way out, Carter notes, he spoke with Shanahan and team owner Dan Snyder. There were no hard feelings; it was just time to move on.

When the lockout ended, Carter was one of dozens of veterans looking for a job. As he noted, some didn’t get calls. His call came from Belichick.

“I’m like, really? Wow,’’ Carter said with a chuckle. “I spoke to Coach Belichick and he said, ‘We know what you can do and we’d like you to contribute.’ From there on, I’ve just been very grateful.’’

His friend and former mentor at Cal, legendary coach Bill Dutton, told Carter not to hesitate to sign with New England.

“I gave him two thumbs up,’’ said Dutton. “I was coaching for 60 years. I have the greatest respect for Coach Belichick and I think he’s one of the top two or three coaches in the National Football League.

“That whole organization is designed to be a winner, and Andre fits that mold perfectly. He’s a team guy, a committed guy, he is a winner.

“I said, ‘My God, if you get that opportunity, go for it. You’ve got a chance to re-establish yourself as a defensive end.’ That’s what he is. That’s what he was born to do.’’

Belichick knew Carter had football genes. In 1978, Belichick was on the Denver staff as a defensive and special teams assistant. One of the players he coached that season was defensive tackle Rubin Carter, Andre’s father.

Since Carter joined the Patriots, Belichick has consistently raved about him - everything from Carter’s intelligence and conditioning to his ability to not just rush the passer but also stop the run.

Though Carter’s first big game appeared to be against the Cowboys last week - he sacked Tony Romo twice (something he was never able to do as a member of the Redskins despite facing the Cowboys twice a year) - he has played well since the season opener and is only getting better. That’s reflected in his increased number of snaps.

“I think he’s performed well all year, I really do,’’ said Belichick. “I think he’s performed well pretty much since the first training camp practice. He’s a very consistent, high-effort player, strong, experienced, knows what he’s doing, very professional. He’s been really consistent.

“I think it’s really inaccurate to think that all of a sudden it’s been something great because he had two sacks, because that’s the stat that it really seems all defensive linemen get measured by.

“I think it’s very inaccurate. I think he’s played consistently week in and week out.’’

Though Carter didn’t enjoy his experience in the 3-4 with Washington, the lessons he learned there have come in handy in New England, where he occasionally has been asked to play off the line.

Pride and joy

Dutton is now retired, but he’s still coaching Carter. He has watched his games closely, and sees the same intensity Carter displayed when they were together at Cal.

Carter never takes a play off, Dutton said, but the last time they spoke, Carter told his old coach that he still could turn up the intensity another notch.

As Dutton relays the story, you can hear the pride in his voice.

It’s hard for Carter to disguise his happiness at the situation, and how things have worked out.

“I tell everybody, I’m very blessed with the opportunity to come out and play for such an elite organization,’’ Carter said. “I really didn’t know what to anticipate after I got released from the Washington Redskins even though it was a mutual thing.

“I just felt like knowing what I do and knowing the type of player I was, I needed the opportunity to go somewhere else and show my skills and just work with great men that love the game of football just as much as I do.

“So overall, it’s been just such an amazing journey and I just constantly work on my craft, whether rushing the passer or stopping the run, and I just enjoy the men that I play with on the defensive line.

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.’’

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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