Note: Reading the profile of Chris Carter is recommended, but not required to follow along.
EPISODE II – “First Cuts”
Thursday, August 4th, 2011 5PM
Nobody told Chris Carter cuts were coming. The undrafted free agent wide receiver first learned about them from his undrafted free agent rookie roommate, quarterback Zac Lee. Lee was planning to spend his day off with a friend, but learned the team was going to let him go. Carter had decided to come to the VMAC on his day off to watch some tape, or else he may not have even heard the news until later that night or the next day. That’s life in an NFL training camp.
Coaches and general managers do not meet with individual players to tell them how they are doing or what they should be working on. Instead, they speak through depth charts and reps. Are you running with the first team or the second, or the third? How many snaps are you getting in 7-on-7 or team drills? Do they ask you to stay on an extra play, or is there a quick hook? These unspoken signals tell players the pecking order.
Carter entered camp knowing he had the odds stacked against him. He was unheralded, undrafted, and recovering from an injury. Still, the team showed enough interest in him to sign him before the end of last season. It appeared that Golden Tate might be the only other slot receiver on the roster. That changed when the Seahawks signed undrafted free agent Doug Baldwin out of Stanford.
Baldwin is almost the exact same height and weight as Carter. Reports are that the front office used a decent chunk of their $75K in signing bonus money to lure Baldwin to camp. That usually means the front office has additional interest in seeing if their investment can pan out. Carter went from #2 on the depth chart to #3 before the first snap.
The movie script would tell you Carter just needs to win it on the field. To a large extent, that is true. What is less understood by most is how challenging that can be as a receiver on the third team. Snaps generally brake down 80% first team 15% second team 5% third team. In the average practice, Carter may get 10-20 snaps in team drills. He then needs to gel with the 3rd-string quarterback. Not only does he need that guy to see him and throw to him, but he needs a ball that can be caught. There are reasons a quarterback is 3rd-string. Field vision and accuracy are things most 3rd-string QBs need to work on. So a player like Carter may get 10 snaps in team drills in 2.5 hours of practice, and could get anywhere from 0-3 balls thrown his way, of which some may not even be catchable. That’s not exactly a recipe for standing out.
The other hope for a player like Carter is that the player(s) ahead of him on the depth chart could struggle and leave a window of opportunity for him to move higher on the depth chart. Golden Tate is with the first team, and won’t be sliding down. Baldwin has done anything but falter. He’s been one of the stronger performers in camp thus far. He runs crisp routes, shows good speed, good hands and can go up and get the ball. He apparently carried a 4.0 GPA at Stanford, so the playbook probably comes pretty easy to him as well. That leaves Carter with only one choice: grind away on the third team and catch every single ball that comes his way. He’s largely done that so far, catching three balls in a row on Sunday, and a couple today.
Camp schedules are tight. You might have meetings first thing in the morning before lifting, practice, lunch, more meetings and dinner. It is up to the players to find time to study the play book. When a player gets out on the field, he is expected to know the formations, the set and the routes. Asking for help won’t win you any points with the coaches.
|Carter comes over to visit with the fans|
Players like Mike Williams and Roy Lewis have helped Carter, but it has to be tough not knowing anyone. Baldwin has Richard Sherman, who played with him at Stanford. Other guys may have wives or girlfriends they can see. Carter is really here on his own. That’s why he used his day off to visit the family that hosted him during the lockout. They have become like an extended family. Today was the first day all of them were able to come out and watch Carter practice. After a solid performance, during a marathon 3+ hour practice, he came over and signed autographs for every fan that wanted one. It probably took another 30 minutes. All along, the 10-year old he shared a house with, Justin, during the lockout, stared up at him with glowing admiration. Carter could go 20 practices without catching a ball, and Justin would idolize him all the same. Carter surprised Justin with brand new silver Jordan sneakers before he left for camp. Some players make millions of dollars and never show the interest or take the time to make the impression Carter has on this young kid.
|Justin watches Chris sign autographs|
Things don’t get any easier from here. Seattle is always active in the free agent market, and could decide at any moment that they want to bring in another kid to look at. Most likely, Carter will get a chance to at least be on the roster through the first pre-season game next Thursday in San Diego. Rosters don’t normally get cut down to 75 players until after the third pre-season game, and then 53 players after the fourth game. It is possible a guy becomes available they want to bring in, but that normally happens more after the cut down to 75 players, when guys free up from other rosters in the NFL. For now, Carter will continue to study, learn, and grind in hopes he has that one practice that grabs the coaches eyes.
|Carter poses for a photo with Justin and his sister|
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