The 2008 season is defensive end Kevin Carter's 14th in the NFL, but you wouldn't know it by listening to him. The two-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl winner with the 1999 St. Louis Rams could have been mistaken for an anxious rookie when he discussed his excitement for kicking off the 2008 regular season in New Orleans on Sunday.
"This is part of the reason why you play," said Carter. "You go through training camp and preseason just to prove you can make it, and your reward is getting ready to kick off the regular season. It's exciting."
Carter was part of a Buccaneer team that swept the Saints in two meetings last year. Carter finished the '07 season with 73 tackles and three sacks.
Getting after the quarterback certainly isn't a new concept to Carter, who has recorded 100.5 career quarterback takedowns since entering the NFL in 1995. However, Carter knows that putting pressure on Saints QB Drew Brees, who was sacked just 16 times in '07, will be key on Sunday.
"He's crafty," Carter said of Brees. "He makes great decisions and he has great pocket poise and awareness. You can throw any type of look you want to at him, but he seems to see everything. He's a pretty good field general and makes everyone else around him better. We have to make sure we're on point."
While most of his playing time will come at left defensive end, Carter is hoping that his debut on the offensive side of the ball at tight end in training camp and preseason will carry over into the regular season.
"I'm trying, begging and pleading, but whether or not Coach Gruden will call my number, we'll have to see," said Carter.
Tampa Bay currently has four tight ends under contract – Jerramy Stevens, Alex Smith, John Gilmore and Ben Troupe. But Stevens will miss the first two games of the season due to a league-mandated suspension.
Will Stevens' absence keep Carter's offensive aspirations alive?
"I guess the circumstances could have something to do with it, but even when we have all of our tight ends back I can hopefully sneak in there when we're down by the goal line," said Carter.
Carter never played on offense in his stints with St. Louis, Tennessee and Miami. He convinced Jon Gruden to bring the experiment out of the lab and to the practice field and preseason games in July and August. Carter said he is fairly pleased with how he has performed at tight end up to this point.
"I have done okay," said Carter. "I have to feel a little more comfortable and line up like I've been there before on offense. It's fun. This is my 14th year in the NFL and no matter how long you play you can always learn something or try something new. I'm just thankful that I'm in this position and have a coach that believes in me enough that I can make that transition and help out."
Gruden concurred with Carter's assessment in terms of how he's fared at tight end.
"He's looked good," said Gruden. "He's getting a workout. He has worked in our goal line and short yardage packages. There's a chance he could be in the field in those situations. Obviously, with Jerramy Stevens' situation what it is, we'll have to have [Carter] ready."
The 6-foot-6, 305-pound Carter has leaned on some of the more experienced and proven tight ends for advice and pointers, but he has also able to draw from his own playing experience on the defensive side of the ball.
"I've been talking to Alex Smith and Jerramy [Stevens] on a daily basis about how you line up and things to look for," said Carter. "The good thing that helps me is a lot of the time I'm blocking defensive ends, and I know how defensive ends play."
Carter's use at tight end revolves mostly around Tampa Bay's goal line packages. While he's been used primarily as a blocker, just as Gruden used former Bucs defensive tackles Warren Sapp, Anthony McFarland and Ellis Wyms, he insists his hands are more than capable of delivering some receptions from the tight end spot, just as Sapp did during the 2003 season.
"My hands are excellent. They are soft and golden. They should be bronzed," Carter said smiling. "They're so good. I've been trying to tell people for years, ‘I'm the missing link. I'm the missing weapon down by the goal line. Anywhere on the field – if you need a tight end to catch the ball, it's me.' I think they're starting to listen now a little bit."
Carter definitely has Gruden's ear.
"He has great hands," Gruden said. "I can't believe they didn't use him at tight end at Florida."
Carter has good reason to be lobbying for the ball. He will turn 35 this year and knows he can't play football forever. While he's gone to Pro Bowls and won a Super Bowl, Carter is hoping to accomplish another feat before his impressive career comes to an end.
"I've never scored a touchdown in my life," said Carter. "This is what I'm lobbying for. This is the year. This is my year. This is the year I will score a touchdown."
Carter has notched over 100 sacks, forced 18 fumbles, recovered 13 loose balls and defensed 23 passes during his 13-year career, but he was never fortunate enough to turn one of those plays into a score.
Although the Bucs have not progressed to the point where Carter's role in the offense calls for him to run routes as a pass-catching tight end, Carter knows that type of role would help increase his chances of scoring his first touchdown. One thing is for sure – Carter doesn't have a preference, he just wants to score.
"I don't see why there would be a reason for me to choose. I can do both," Carter said when asked if he would rather score a touchdown on offense or defense. "I'll take it either way."
INJURY REPORT There were a few changes on Tampa Bay's injury report for Thursday. Quarterback Jeff Garcia, who was listed on Wednesday's injury report with a calf injury, was listed on Thursday's report with a calf and hand injury. However, Garcia had full participation in the workout on Thursday.
Rookie cornerback Aqib Talib was added to the injury report with an illness. He was limited in practice today.
Tight end Ben Troupe (foot) had full participation in Thursday's practice. Guard David Joseph (foot) was held out of practice. Fullback B.J. Askew (ankle), wide receivers Antonio Bryant (knee), Michael Clayton (chest) and Joey Galloway (groin), defensive tackle Jovan Haye (groin), offensive lineman Sean Mahan (team decision), linebacker Matt McCoy (groin), safety Sabby Piscitelli (knee) and defensive tackle Ryan Sims (thigh) were limited in practice on Thursday.
RUUD EAGER TO FACE SAINTS Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Ruud had a coming out party against the Saints last season in the second game of the year, which was the Buccaneers' home opener. Ruud was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week after recording 16 tackles, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery in Tampa Bay's 31-14 victory. With last year's success a distant memory, the young linebacker is focused on the challenge of this Sunday's season opener.
"It is an exciting way to start the season," said Ruud. "I think it is the first time we've started against a division opponent, and it is rivalry game, too. It is on the road and the Superdome is a great place to play. It'll be fun. It is a way you like to start the season."
New Orleans has one of the top offenses in football, and has big-play ability. Ruud indicated the defense has a more primary goal that takes precedent over stopping the splash plays.
"I think every offense is a little similar in that you have to stop the run first," said Ruud. "Then you got to make sure you don't give up big plays. That is kind of our whole theory, make it slow for them to get down the field, and if they do that then hats off to them. It is kind of the same thing throughout: you try to stop the run first and then take away the big play."
The Saints are going to present some challenges for Ruud. He will have to defend against running backs Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister, and also other weapons like tight end Jeremy Shockey. Ruud would not divulge if he would be drawing the duty to defend Shockey in the passing game.
"I can't tell you that," said Ruud. "I can't give you an answer to that one it is a game plan one. I do know that we are aware that he is on the team. We know what he can do. We definitely have to be ready for him.
"Whenever you play against elite players it is fun. Reggie has elite skills and we are excited to play against him.
"Yeah, Deuce is a bigger guy then you'd imagine him to be. He runs hard and has been a staple of their team for a long time. Everybody here has a lot of respect for Deuce."
BUCS ANNOUNCE RADIO SHOWS FOR 2008 Several Tampa Bay Buccaneers will hit the airwaves for the 2008 season.
The team announced their weekly radio schedule for the 2008 Official Buccaneer Play Radio Shows, including head coach Jon Gruden, cornerback Ronde Barber, linebacker Derrick Brooks and guard Davin Joseph. Tampa Bay will also have the Buccaneers Total Access show, which features a different player each week.
The following radio shows can be heard on 103.5 WFUS and 620 WDAE during the 2008 football season:
QUOTE OF THE DAY Gruden on what he expects from rookie guard Jeremy Zuttah playing in place of injured G Davin Joseph.
"We don't expect him to play like a rookie. We expect him to play like a seasoned veteran. He's going to have to do that to win this game. I think we all understand that he's going to see some really good players like Sedrick Ellis and some others. They're very talented. We're just counting on him going out there and playing the way he's been playing and doing the best he can. We're confident in him and he's had a good week of practice."
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