DE Adam Carriker likely improved his draft stock with an outstanding week at the Senior Bowl in January
(More than 320 standout college players put their skills on display at the NFL Scouting Combine in late February. On the weekend of April 28-29, the vast majority of those players will hear their names called in the 2007 NFL Draft. During the months of March and April, Buccaneers.com will take a closer look at some of those names from the combine, and the stories behind them in our "Road to the Draft" series. These features are not meant to pinpoint the very top prospects in the draft, nor to reflect the Buccaneers' opinions or draft strategies. Any mention of draft-board status or a player's strengths and weaknesses are from outside sources, not the team's own scouting work. Currently featured: Nebraska defensive end Adam Carriker.)
The defensive scheme at the University of Nebraska didn't offer senior defensive end Adam Carriker a lot of freedom to roam. It didn't inflate his stats, though they were quite good nonetheless, and it didn't make him into a household name.
But the scheme did put Carriker in a position to succeed…and that's because the hardworking 'Husker defines success as "team success."
The 6-6, 296-pound Carriker played defensive end on the heavy side of a 3-4 alignment, always on the tight end's side, usually lined up right over the tackle. He was often charged with two-gap responsibilities. That is, he would try to neutralize one (or sometimes two) offensive linemen and try to stop whatever came through the gap on either side of him. The ends are vitally important in a 3-4, but the defense is designed to spill most of the actual tackles to the active linebackers.
Thus, a talented defender like Carriker can finish the 2006 season with 52 tackles, seven sacks, an interception and three passes defensed – excellent production regardless of the circumstances – and leave the impression that his numbers could have been even better.
That position Carriker played his final two seasons at Nebraska is known as the "Base" defensive end, and he played it well enough to earn Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year honors.
"It doesn't help you a whole lot, no," said Carriker of the scheme and the final statistical resume he has submitted to the NFL. "It's got to be an unselfish [player at Base end] because you're not going to make a lot of plays. It's not designed for you.
"But it helps the team, and that's why we did it."
Nebraska went 16-8 in the regular season during Carriker's two years at Base end, and 1-1 in bowl games, winning the Alamo Bowl over Michigan two years ago and losing the Cotton Bowl to Auburn this past season. Carriker had 43 tackles and a Big 12-leading 9.5 sacks in his junior season, and he finished with 20.5 sacks over the course of his Cornhusker career.
All in all, those were excellent results for the team and the player. Still, Carriker may find even greater success, at least individually, at the professional level. There are indications that he might be capable of impressive numbers at a position that allows him to be more of a playmaker, and one of those indications is his rising draft stock. These days, few mock drafts appear without Carriker's name in the first round.
Carriker gave a hint of his capabilities at the Senior Bowl in January, where he was one of the most impressive players during the week of practice leading up to the all-star game. Coached throughout the week by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' coaching staff – and thus performing within the Bucs' favored 4-3 scheme – he played end and three-technique tackle and impressed at both spots.
"In our defensive scheme at Nebraska I wasn't really allowed to just come off the ball, fly off the ball and make plays," he said. "In our scheme, I was like a two-gap guy, taking up two gaps or two offensive linemen. So, yeah, I think I showed [at the Senior Bowl] what I could do.
Truth is, it's difficult to find a defense in which Carriker is not a good fit.
He is big enough to play end in the 3-4, which requires a player strong enough to play inside while linebackers often rush off the edge. He isn't too big, however, to play the more traditional end spot in a 4-3, where his 4.8-second 40-yard dash speed would come in handy. And the Buccaneers obviously felt he could make an impact as an "under tackle" sort, given their Senior Bowl experimentation.
Carriker believes, too, that he is well suited for any of those positions, as well as nose tackle (that just about covers it). He is also more than willing to try his hand at any position.
"A lot of teams like me as a 3-4 end because of my size," he said. "I'm obviously used to the 4-3 end and the 4-3 three-technique is fine with me, too, because I like being closer to the quarterback. One of the things teams like about me is my versatility. Some teams even mentioned they would play me at nose a few plays. I can do any of that.
"It really doesn't matter to me. Whatever teams want from me, I'll do. I did it at Nebraska and had no problem with it. If they want me to play three-tech, want me to play a 4-3 end, 3-4, whatever, I'll play."
It's accurate to call Carriker unselfish thanks to that attitude. But it's also fair to say that he has learned the advantages of being open to new experiences.
In high school, he was a quarterback, starting as a sophomore, junior and senior at Kennewick (Washington) High School. Carriker believed that position was going to be his ticket into college football. However, as his senior year approached, the Kennewick coaching staff, needing help on the defensive side of the ball, asked him to become a two-way player. Carriker added defensive end to his duties and, lo and behold, found his true calling. Fifteen sacks later, he was headed to Nebraska as a defensive end.
"The team needed it," he said, simply. "That just turned out to be my thing, I guess."
His career at Nebraska didn't require the same sort of massive shift. After two seasons of struggling with ankle injuries, he settled into the Base position for the 2005 and '06 seasons and simply dominated. Now he might very well be headed for another role change. It will all come down to what his new NFL team needs. He's standing by to oblige.
"I can easily put on 10-15 pounds; I could easily lose 10-15 pounds," said Carriker, knowing one weight or another might be ideal for his specific position. "Weight for me is not an issue; I can do whatever I want."
He'll have a chance to prove that in the NFL.