When Bucs defensive end Kevin Carter signed a four-year contract before the 2007 season, he came to Tampa Bay not knowing what his role would be on the team. He was just looking to contribute in any way that he could and wanted to at least get the opportunity to battle for a starting position.
With veteran defensive ends Simeon Rice and Greg Spires projected as starters, Carter realized that he might start the season in a backup role. However, after the Bucs cut Rice on the first day of training camp, Carter quickly became a viable starter to fill the opening left by Rice's departure.
Carter quickly became a leader on the defensive line and was a mentor throughout the season for young defensive ends Greg White and rookie Gaines Adams. It was a role that Carter embraced and relished in as he started 14 of 16 games for the No. 2-ranked defense in the NFL.
"It's not a position that I've always been in, but it's a position I have found myself in recent years. As I've gotten older, it's definitely been something that I hang my hat on as far achievements," Carter said of his leadership role. "When you talk about Pro Bowls or lofty achievements, I put the leadership that I was to bring to this team in a short amount of time right up there. Really enjoyed it and it just speaks a lot about a coach that is willing to go out and get certain people to make a team complete. Not only for playing ability, but also for their intangibles, the way they lead and help the team come together."
Carter finished the season, his 13th in the NFL, with 73 tackles and three sacks along with one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He currently sits fourth among active players with 97.5 sacks in his career. Carter was used in multiple ways from rushing the quarterback off the end to playing inside in the three-technique in passing situations. Carter enjoyed his first season in Tampa Bay and quickly created relationships with his teammates.
"I think that we had a good year in terms of finding chemistry. I think this team last year was at one point and made some additions in the off-season and really found our chemistry rather quickly. I like the vibe of this team and I like this locker room. I came here really not knowing what my playing situation was going to be," Carter said. "I just wanted to contribute in someway and help and be a part of this team and play for this coach because I like the way he is. I still believe that it was a labor of love to come in here and play with these guys. It was really great. I think we accomplished a lot. I think we accomplished more than some people may admit, more than most people thought we would do. I think a lot of people in this room feel the same way because a lot of people chose to buy in and then you start believing. I really enjoyed my time here and I've only been in this locker room for eight months and in that time I feel like I know every guy in this locker room."
Carter was one of several players that were slowly cleaning out their lockers on Monday after the 24-14 playoff loss vs. the New York Giants Sunday. The reality that the season was over had already sunk in with Carter when he got to One Buc Place.
"Yeah I have grasped it. It kind of hit me last night because I was walking around and kind of sore. I was like ‘Man I need to get in and workout tomorrow' and then I realized I don't have to do anything because the season is done," Carter said. "So this morning when I woke up I was a little more sore than usual because the weight of a season begins to come upon you. It was a good year though."
Number 93 was one of many players that felt the Bucs could make a serious run in the playoffs because of the chemistry and bond that had been built among the team. So for the season to end so abruptly was disappointing for the 13-year veteran, who has a Super Bowl championship with the St. Louis Rams in 1999.
"It leaves bitterness because of what we could have got done and what we would have accomplished. For whatever reason, yesterday we couldn't get it done and that hurts because you come so close to advance and come so far over a season finding common ground and chemistry among guys," Carter said. "Just to come that far, win the division with two games left and be knocked out in the first round it's heartbreaking it really is. Especially for the amount of work we've put in and the chemistry that we found in such a short span of time."
He believes the chemistry and success that was achieved by this year's Bucs team provides a better starting point compared to what Tampa Bay had to deal with after a 4-12 season in 2006.
It's one of the positives that the Bucs can take into the off-season when preparing for the 2008 season.
"It gives you a better starting point. You have to start momentum or a streak with your first win," Carter said. "I think last year when this team sat in the team meeting room and they talked when they were 4-12, getting to this point I think it takes a certain amount of work ethic and belief to get to where we are now. Now starting where we are at this point how much better should we be next year. That's the way you have to look at it."
Will Carter be back with the Bucs in 2008?
"If they will let me," Carter said. "If they let me play I will play."
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