When the wave of transactions swept through Gillette Stadium at the start of training camp, two names expectedly stood out among the rest.
Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco.
The former, no stranger to controversy on and off the field, has not practiced since Aug. 4 because of an undisclosed injury. The latter, his first-quarter touchdown in the Patriots’ 31-14 preseason win over the Buccaneers on Thursday notwithstanding, continues to build a rapport with Tom Brady.
I foresee another New England newcomer having a more immediate impact than both Haynesworth and Ochocinco.
Who, you ask? Meet Andre Carter.
If you need another reason why Bill Belichick is likely to employ a 4-3 base defense in 2011, look no further than Carter, a hulking 6-foot-4, 255-pound defensive end who was born to rush the quarterback.
He didn’t really get that opportunity with the Redskins last season, when new coach Mike Shanahan’s staff implemented a 3-4 scheme that shifted Carter from defensive end to outside linebacker – hardly an ideal spot for him. Belichick confirmed as much earlier this month, when the Patriots signed Carter to a one-year deal after the Redskins released him on March 1.
“We feel like with what we’ll be asking him to do this year – relative to what he was asked to do last year, what we’ve seen him do in the first nine years of his career – that we can use his ability on the edge and he can be effective,” Belichick said.
Having spent time with Carter prior to the 2001 NFL draft, Belichick already had a solid grasp of the 32-year-old’s game. He also coached Carter’s father, Rubin, in 1978 when the two were in Denver.
New England ultimately selected Richard Seymour with the sixth overall pick of that ’01 draft. Carter went seventh to San Francisco, where the California alum spent five seasons from 2001-05, amassing 12.5 sacks in 2002.
A six-year, $30 million contract brought Carter to Washington in 2006. He registered 10.5 sacks in 2007 and 11 more in 2009 prior to Shanahan’s arrival, which signaled Carter’s move to outside linebacker.
It also meant changes for Haynesworth, who last offseason openly disapproved of the 3-4 alignment because he preferred a 4-3.
But instead of complaining like Haynesworth, Carter – who actually had cause to gripe about the switch given his skill set – called out his teammate.
“I haven’t experienced a player prioritizing his position on the field over working with the game,” Carter told TheHogs.net last July. “It’s disappointing because Albert could fit in this scheme. … He made his statement that he didn’t want to play in this scheme and we are not going to force him to play. He’s a grown man. We have moved forward.”
Asked if Haynesworth would be welcomed back to last year’s training camp, Carter said, “He would have to leave the BS at the door. Negativity around positive and optimistic people won’t work. He will need to work hard and prove himself by showing that he’s trustworthy and reliable in the scheme and as a teammate.”
Carter certainly has the attitude of a Belichickian Patriot, which is why I believe his contributions will extend beyond the field in 2011. Should Haynesworth opt to resume his petulant behavior in New England, he’ll have to answer not only to Belichick, but Carter as well.
Perhaps a strong leadership system is precisely what Haynesworth needs to play up to his potential. Carter’s character, versatility and work ethic, however, have never been questioned.
“I think he’s a high-quality individual who’s very professional, works hard and is a very well-conditioned athlete,” said Belichick, who noted that run defense is also one of Carter’s strengths.
“He has a lot of things going for him. He’s a smart guy. He understands football concepts and can make adjustments quickly. [There are] quite a few positives there.”
While fellow defensive linemen Shaun Ellis – who was removed from the physically unable to perform list on Saturday – and Haynesworth work their way up to speed, Carter has shined, despite not joining the team until Aug. 8.
After sitting out the preseason opener against Jacksonville, Carter saw his first game action on Thursday and looked like a one-man wrecking crew, abusing Pro Bowl offensive tackle Donald Penn and others to the tune of three holding penalties drawn, three quarterback pressures, a quarterback hit and a shared bad run produced, according to The Boston Globe’s Greg A. Bedard.
Carter wasn’t exactly doing cartwheels over his performance.
“I’ll leave that up to the coaches,” he said. “I’m definitely my own worst critic. There is always room for improvement. Overall, I did my best to play fast, but I’m still remaining humble and still remaining hungry.”
The Patriots could sure use a hungry Carter setting the edge for them this season. New England’s NFL-best 14-2 record last year had more to do with its high-powered offense, which led the league in scoring at 32.4 points per game, than its suspect defense.
If there’s one area where the Patriots must improve in 2011, it’s pass defense. Opposing quarterbacks averaged 258.5 yards per game against New England last season, the third-highest total behind non-playoff teams Houston and Washington.
One way to improve that number is to generate a consistent pass rush. By adding Mark Anderson, Carter, Ellis and Haynesworth to a group that already included Gerard Warren and Vince Wilfork, Belichick could have the makings of a dominant defensive line.
In Carter, the Patriots appear to have an instant contributor.