Episode 5 “Purgatory” – Seahawks Hard Knocks With WR Chris Carter

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Football is more than a sport. It is the best reality show on television. Every year, kids from across the country battle with men for the honor of pulling on an NFL jersey. Fame and fortune are the lure for some, but the for the majority that make ~$400K and have careers that only last a few years, it’s about love of the game. Some stars are born, and others are made. This is a series telling the story of one such player, Seahawks Wide Receiver Chris Carter, and his attempt to realize his NFL dream.

Note: Reading the profile of Chris Carter is recommended, but not required to follow along.

EPISODE V – “Purgatory”
Monday, August 29th, 2011 9:10AM

Being tapped on the shoulder was not a surprise for Chris Carter. He had just finished showering after getting treatment for his rehabilitating right shoulder. Playing time had gone from scarce to nonexistent. His cleats never crossed the sideline in Denver for the Seahawks third exhibition game. Everyone in the building knew the grim reaper was coming. Teams needed to cut 10 players in order to reach the league-mandated 80-man roster limit by Tuesday afternoon. Most teams try to make their cuts as soon as they know who they plan to let go, both as a courtesy to the player and to further concentrate the practice reps for the remaining players. Carter didn’t know the name of the assistant who played the role of the reaper on Monday, but he knew his mission just the same.

As Carter was escorted upstairs to get the bad news, he crossed paths with General Manager John Schneider in the hallway.

“It was nothing you did.” Schneider told Carter. “You had a great camp.”

Getting cut while being told how well you played can short-circuit an athlete. They are programmed from an early age on coaches feedback. Trying to make sense of positive feedback with a negative result leaves most athletes either questioning whether they were ever given a fair chance, or wondering if the coaches just don’t have the heart to tell it to them straight.

When Carter reached Pete Carroll’s office, he was joined by receivers coach Kippy Brown. Carroll echoed what Schneider had told Carter in the hallway, and Brown emphasized how much they liked him. Both men told him to stay ready because the team could bring him back at any time, including for the practice squad. They asked if he needed a plane ticket home, and Carter told them he had his car up here. The team agreed to reimburse him for gas instead of buying him a plane ticket. Major league baseball players talk about a “cup of coffee” in the big leagues when a minor leaguer gets called up for a brief stint. Carter apparently was going to have to settle for a couple tanks of gas from the Seahawks.

There were 320 players that got cut across the NFL as part of this roster reduction. Hundreds more were either cut earlier or never even got a chance to sign with a club in the first place. Thousands beyond that never made enough of an impact on their college team to warrant consideration in the NFL. Tens of thousands never get to play in college. Yet, nobody feels lucky as they make the long walk back to the locker room exchanging awkward glances with staff and former teammates.

Mike Williams took the time to talk to Carter as he packed up his locker, telling him he’ll get another shot and to keep working. His other wide receiver teammates wished him well, but Carter knew each one was breathing a little easier knowing they weren’t the ones cleaning out their lockers. Carter made a point to say goodbye to some of his closer friends, including Roy Lewis. Lewis told Carter to keep working, and told him the story about when he got cut by the Steelers.

Carter left the Seahawks facility and crashed at his host families place in Bellevue. He woke up Tuesday morning facing the impossible question of what to do next. No other teams had called. Was he going to have to sit out another year? Should he head back to California, or hang out in Washington a while longer? Lisa, who’s house he was staying in, wasn’t having it.

“I know you don’t want to do it,” Lisa said. “But you’re coming with me on a walk.”

They circled the lake talking about Carter’s frustrations, and what his next steps should be. He decided to stick around in Seattle for at least a few more days. He woke up Wednesday morning, and started watching SportsCenter when the phone rang. Carter’s agent was on the line with big news. The Seahawks wanted him back. Schneider had called his agent, worried that Carter may have already started driving back to California. The team wanted Carter back as soon as possible. Fifteen minutes later, Carter was at the VMAC, meeting with John Idzik to sign a new contract. He hustled down to the offensive team meeting where he was welcomed back into the fold.

When asked if there was any one part of this experience that he would always remember, Carter said, “I think I’ll remember it all.” He noted how thankful he was to get another chance with a team where he already knows the offense, and the players and coaches already know him. Carter didn’t waste time wondering why the team brought him back, but was happy to find himself getting snaps with the 2nd unit for the first time. A number of receivers were unable to practice due to injury, and Carter made the most of his chance for increased time, having one of his best practices to date.

Chris Carter makes a catch in Wednesday’s practice. This image headed practice the recap on Seahawks.com

Carter made one of the best catches of the day, and earned mention on the team’s website (below), as well as the lead photo (above).

He followed up his strong practice on Wednesday with another one on Thursday, earning play of day honors on Seahawks.com (below).

None of this means Carter’s fate has changed. He has earned nothing more than some additional attention and potentially a few extra snaps in the team’s final pre-season game against the Oakland Raiders at CenturyLink field. There are twelve receivers on the roster, and the most the team will keep is six. It would be an upset if those six were not Sidney Rice, Mike Williams, Ben Obomanu, Kris Durham, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin. Where the math starts to swing back into Carter’s favor is figuring out which of the remaining receivers are eligible for the eight-man practice squad. Ricardo Lockette, Patrick Williams, and newly signed Owen Spencer are eligible. Isaiah Stanback is not, and Deon Butler will not be on the opening day roster due to injury (either PUP, IR or waived/injury settlement). The team could easily keep two receivers for the practice squad, and Spencer is a huge long-shot considering he’ll have all of one day to learn the playbook and try to make an impression. That leaves Carter in a battle with Lockette and Williams. Knowing that Williams’ was cut and re-signed alongside Carter gives a pretty good indication of who he needs to outplay. In this competition, you never face your opponents. Carter’s job will be to continue his track record of making the most of his opportunities. He believes he is ready for the challenge.

“I think I’m a better receiver than I was in the first pre-season game,” Carter said. “I’m confident in my abilities, and now that I know the offense so well, I can just go out and ball.”

The path to the practice squad requires another tap on the shoulder and locker clean-out. Players must be cut before they can be re-signed to that part of the team. As traumatic as this week has been for Carter, his best chance in the NFL this year may be to do it all over again next week.