(photo by Brian Murphy)
Normally, this is the time of year when the Washington Redskins reign supreme. Wins might be hard to come by once actual games are played, but the offseason is when the Redskins take center stage.
But a funny thing happened this year. Since the dynamic duo of coach Mike Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen took over, Redskins Park has become a ghost town. Big name free agents have become an afterthought and the people who follow this team are left to adjust to a new way of life.
Since things have been so quiet, we decided to reach out to our old friend Andre Carter, the defensive end who tied for the team lead with 11 sacks last season, to see how the offseason is treating him and to get his reaction on the sudden inactivity in Ashburn.
Okay, so where are you and how are you?
“I’m back in California,” Carter said. “I was in Virginia for a hot second because my wife and I bought a home in SoCal, so we were there to pack some stuff up. Now we’re out here trying to get situated, so we’re staying pretty busy.”
So basically, you’re saying you want out of D.C. and you no longer want to be a member of the Washington Redskins …
(Laughs.) “Nah, nah, nah, man. I’m still a Redskin,” he said. “Well, I think so.”
That’s one of the reasons we wanted to contact you. It seems like every time we come across an article mentioning your name, the writer is asking if you have a place in the new defense. Are you paying attention to all of this?
“My agent mentioned the article to me earlier,” Carter said. “I don’t think Jason Reid was trying to cause any controversy or anything of that nature. I think, based upon my history of transitioning from a defensive end to a linebacker back in 2005, he knows my work ethic, but at the same time, he knows what I do best. I’m just taking everything in stride. If that’s something the team wants me to do, then I’m going to do it.
I’ll go out and give it my best,” he continued. “Now, will I be the best linebacker? I’ll say this – I’ll be the best linebacker I can be. I know this is a business, but I’m also optimistic. I’ll take on whatever they ask of me and I’m going to be a professional about it. I’m not going to mope around and feel sorry for myself.”
Everyone keeps going back to your time with the San Francisco 49ers when they transitioned to a 3-4 defense and then you ended up leaving in free agency. Can you explain what happened and what that experience was like?
“Sure. They switched to a 3-4 defense and everything, as far as assignments and techniques, was like nothing I had ever been through before playing defensive end,” Carter said. “The scheme they were going for was a lot like the Baltimore Ravens style of defense. When it came to blitzing and things like that, I was lined up on the number-two slot. We would have two people lined up on the outside – myself and a cornerback. So, as I was coming towards the quarterback, the running back would scan out to protect. As a defensive end, I would naturally go in and then cut out or go out and then cut back in. I usually had the option. But now, as a linebacker, I always had to go inside, which was an adjustment.
“Now, I’ve talked with Coach [Jim] Haslett and I understand that this 3-4 scheme is nothing like that Baltimore Ravens scheme and what I experienced in 2005,” he continued. “For me, the most difficult part of that experience was coverage. Back then I had to cover the tight end man to man, and that was an experience. I learned how to do it as the season went on, but man, talk about getting your butt whooped. And there were times when I had to line up on the number-two receivers when they were lined up in the slot. That was different.
“We played a cover-2, so I had to jam him at the line of scrimmage,” Carter said. “You learn little stuff like how to work your hips a certain way, because if I don’t flip them, he’s going to beat me deep. Yeah, there were times I learned that the hard way. (Laughs.) But I never complained and I always put in the work. Towards the end of the year, they switched the scheme up a little and I worked more with the defensive linemen. But that experience was kind of tough because I had been a defensive end my whole life.”
You mentioned you’ve talked with Haslett. How did that conversation go and what did he say as far as his plans for you?
“He said I’ll be the left outside linebacker and Brian Orakpo will be on the right,” he said. “I’m used to being on the other side, but hey, he’s the boss. Because I’m so used to being on the other side, I’ll have to work on some things, like transferring certain muscle groups and things like that. But that’s part of the job. There were times last year, with some of our packages, when I would line up on the left side, so I’m familiar with it. If that’s what they want, then fine. As far as dropping back in coverage and things of that nature, the way he explained it to me, it’s a lot easier than my experiences as a linebacker in 2005.”
Will you still get chances to put that hand in the dirt and rush the quarterback?
“The way he explained it to me, that’s still part of the plan,” Carter said. “It may be on sub packages or whatever, but that’s all stuff we’ll talk more about later. But yeah, that’s stuff we did talk about.”
Okay, so you’re a veteran player with a solid resume as a defensive end on the right side and now we’re talking about you being a left outside linebacker dropping back in coverage instead of rushing the passer. Have you had any thoughts about what’s best for you, rather than what may be best for the Redskins?
“You know man, I’m a guy who is always going to do what’s best for the organization,” he said. “I know what I can do. But I understand this is a business and when a new regime comes in, they’re going to want to make changes. It’s on you to adapt to their style.”
It’s easy for fans to spout off clichés like “it’s a business,” but it’s a little different for the players in that locker room. The Redskins just cut 10 players, many of which were veteran players who had been your teammates for a while now.
“You know, it’s so tough because we had such a great history with a lot of these guys,” Carter said. “Guys like Cornelius Griffin – who I’d worked with since I got here – when I came in, he welcomed me with open arms. We lost some leaders with those cuts, and what they brought to the team will be hard to replicate or replace. It’s very unfortunate. But like Ladell Betts told me, the show moves on. Either you’re in or you’re out. But I think this will definitely be an adjustment because guys like those, who show such passion and lead by example, they’re hard to come by.
“It just means that come training camp, new guys are going to have to step up and fill that void,” he continued. “I’m going to have to step up, be more vocal and lead by example. Not just with my work ethic, but also be more vocal every now and then. It’s always very important to have good, veteran leadership on your team to set the standard.
“Also, I look at the loss of Rock Cartwright,” he said. “He meant a lot to our special teams. Before that we lost Khary Campbell. Special teams is an area you can’t take lightly. You have to find guys that have a passion for it, because not everybody can do it. I mean, we’re not just losing good guys on the field, we’re also losing great guys off the field.”
Clearly with these moves, head coach Mike Shanahan and his new coaching staff sent a not-so-subtle message to the rest of the roster that they better show up in shape and put in time with all of the voluntary workouts, right?
“You can’t take any of this lightly. You’ve got to come correct,” Carter said. “But if you look at all of the outside distractions we had last year, Coach Shanahan isn’t playing around. He’s putting his foot down, but it’s understandable. There’s a lot of work to be done, as far as rebuilding this team, establishing camaraderie and everything. That doesn’t happen overnight. We just need to work hard and stick together and anything is possible.”
We talked before and you told us that when you hit free agency, one of your visits was to the Denver Broncos. You met with Mike Shanahan and strongly considered signing there. Could you tell us about that?
“I took my trip to visit with the Redskins and told them within 24 hours I’d let them know what my decision was,” he said. “I asked them to be patient because what you usually see is a player makes his first visit and that team pushes hard to sign him. I wanted to go out there and see what they had to offer and Denver is a great organization. My dad played there, so in my mind, I would have been a second generation player with a great franchise. I met with Shanahan and the owner out there, but in the end, I just felt a better connection with the Redskins.
“Joe Gibbs sold me on coming here and I definitely enjoyed playing for Gregg Williams and Greg Blache,” Carter said. “They gave me that old-school, hard-nosed football that I loved and had played in college. Those were the men who influenced my decision and enabled me to become a Redskin.
Since you’ve spent some time with Shanahan, can you tell us what we can expect with him this season?
“He’s a proven winner,” he said. “He’s got two Super Bowl rings and knows what it takes to be successful in this league. Those rings are hard to come by, so he’s coming in with a lot of respect. Now we’ve got to earn his respect.
“I’ve had a few teammates play for him and they say he’s kind of a disciplinarian,” Carter said. “If you’re not doing the right thing, he’s going to call you out. But sometimes that’s what you need.”
Were you surprised when the first day of free agency hit and the Redskins, who are known to be aggressive, were nowhere to be found?
“Yeah, that was a first,” he said. “It’s a sign of a change in identity. For the last 10 years or whatever, they’ve gone out and tried to get the biggest names. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t. Now it looks like they’re out to change the perception of the organization, which could be a good thing. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the draft as well.”
Speaking of the draft, what would you do with the fourth pick in the draft?
“We need offensive linemen,” Carter said. “With the loss of Chris Samuels and Randy Thomas, we need some more young and hungry guys to step in for us. I always enjoy watching the draft. I try to tune in for the first two or three rounds, so it’ll be interesting to see what they decide.”