DE Kevin Carter thinks the Bucs' style of defense is well-suited to his abilities
They say hindsight is 20/20, that the impact of your decisions only becomes clear well after you've made them and the true ramifications can be evaluated.
For Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Kevin Carter, it hasn't taken very long to assess the choice he made this offseason to re-sign with the Bucs rather than depart for another team.
"It's hard to put a price on happiness," said Carter, long ago a star at the University of Florida. "I'm really in a blessed situation from a career standpoint. I have the chance to possibly write the end of my own story. It's been a wonderful career. I've been really blessed to have a long tenure thus far, but now I'm in a place where I'm near my family, we love the neighborhood we live in, we love the weather and I'm back home playing in front of my Gators. It's just a good situation for me. I'm really happy to be here."
Off-the-field happiness is one thing, but on-field production is also an extremely important factor in the equation. Luckily for both Carter and the Bucs, the results on the gridiron have been every bit as positive. Head Coach Jon Gruden recently singled out Carter as one of the key factors in Tampa Bay's strong run defense this year.
"Thus far, I feel okay," Carter said. "It's always a struggle and fight to get better, but I love what I'm doing. I'm very much enjoying playing with the guys I'm playing with on defense and I'm having a lot of fun in [Defensive Coordinator] Monte [Kiffin]'s scheme. It's one of those things where I wish I could have played here my whole career in this scheme.
Right now we're playing well on defense and we're doing some good things. We've got a lot of good chemistry building, and I can only attribute my own individual play to that of the people around me. With [Chris] Hovan and Gaines [Adams] and all those guys working their butts off every day, it inspires and pushes me to better."
Carter has tallied 29 tackles, two sacks and two passes defensed on the year, but perhaps every bit as important as his statistics is the leadership the 14th-year veteran provides within the defensive line group.
"I see the constant improvement," Carter said. "I see the tone being set every day with guys like myself and especially Chris Hovan. We set the way to work, and the room follows suit. We've got some good guys. Gaines, personally I think the light bulb went on for him midseason last year. He just started getting everything and now he's playing out of his head. I'm really proud of how our young guys have grown up and how the guys who are professionals continue to be those consummate professionals."
The Bucs defense features an intriguing blend of experienced vets and up-and-coming young stars. With veterans like Carter, Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber manning key positions and youngsters like Adams, Tanard Jackson, Aqib Talib and now Sabby Piscitelli also playing important roles, there is a nice blend of players.
The defensive line, meanwhile, could be described as a microcosm of the overall defense. With Carter as one of the leaders, the Bucs' defensive front contains a very similar mixture of youth and experience.
"The word â€˜dynamic' hits the nail on the head," Carter said. "You have to build some kind of chemistry. You have your older guy who's still in his prime and is a workhorse like Hovan; you've got your middle-of-the-road guys who are still in their prime but their physical ability is meeting their ability to understand the game, guys like Jovan Haye, Jimmy Wilkerson and Ryan Sims; and then you've got the young guys that we have in the room. I consider Greg White a young guy, but he and Greg Peterson and Gaines Adams, we have our young guys bringing up the low end of the totem pole, which I say just because of seniority, but certainly not in their stature of play."
In all, with Carter's group of defensive linemen teaming up with an excellent cast of linebackers and defensive backs every Sunday, Carter says it's easily one of the best units of which he has ever been a part.
"Definitely," Carter said. "I've played on some good defenses. I've been really fortunate in my career, but given the chance to play on this defense at this time right now, especially at this point in my career, it's definitely one of the best I've been around."
The next task for the Bucs' defense will be shutting down a Chiefs team that has struggled so far in 2008, but is coming off a good performance last week in New York, even in a losing effort.
What will make the matchup even tougher for Carter and the Bucs will be a raucous home crowd in Arrowhead Stadium that has long been known as one of the noisiest in the league.
"It's a lot of fun," Carter, who unlike many of his Buccaneer teammates has played there before. "It's an electric atmosphere. People in Kansas City really love their football. They're loud and they're — dare I say — almost smothering in the way they cheer for their team. But that's what you want. That's the home field advantage that they have and it's fun for me to go into a hostile environment. It's part of competition and why we do what we do."
Chiefs fans may have a little extra to cheer for this week as young quarterback Tyler Thigpen tries to string together a second straight solid outing against a stingy Bucs' defense. Although Thigpen is inexperienced, that actually is a bit of a wildcard factor in game-planning against him, Carter said.
"We take the same approach we take always," said Carter of preparing for Thigpen. "We know we have to go out there and stop the run. It all starts up front. Secondarily, when we have our chances to get pressure, maybe get sacks or make him throw a bad ball and disrupt what he's doing, we have to do that. Another element to his game is that he can run around. He's not only a scrambler, but he's a guy that can scramble and hurt you throwing the ball downfield. We've got our work cut out for us.
"But one of those things with quarterbacks you don't know a lot about is that they're dangerous. You don't have a lot of film, you don't know exactly what they're going to do and you don't know what their tendencies are. It's a big challenge for us."
If Carter and the Bucs can get past Thigpen and the Chiefs, a chance to rest up and heal some bumps and bruises awaits as the bye week is next up on the calendar. As easy as it may be to overlook a 1-6 Chiefs team, especially with some time off looming, Carter says that won't be a problem for the Bucs.
"I don't think it's a worry," Carter said. "I can only speak for the guys in my room and on the defense, but we go out there every time we touch the field to go out there and dominate. That's our attitude and we're going out there to be the best that we can be. It doesn't matter if there's a bye week after it. If anything, that should make our bye week better if we go out there and win."
Although a tough road contest on Sunday stands between him and the bye week, and as much-needed as the few days off will be, especially for a longtime warrior like Carter, it won't be all rest and relaxation.
"Yeah, I'm looking forward to it," Carter said. "I'll get a little rest, get a chance to reconnect with family and do some things around the house. Change some light bulbs, that kind of thing."