The preseason isn't just about getting starters their needed reps and getting into playing shape. It's a handful of weeks to gauge the depth of the overall roster as back-end players get extended game action. Across the league many underdog players make their mark in the preseason, with many getting jobs either with the club they entered camp with or grabbing another opportunity after being released.
Consider Chris Carter as an example of such for the Cincinnati Bengals. After bouncing around the league the past four years and not finding a true home, the veteran "'tweener" linebacker may have finally found his niche with the Bengals this season. Carter has been a consistent force off of the edge as a pass rusher in camp and on the preseason field, leading the team with 3.5 sacks, along with multiple other pressures in four games.
Like he has done in every game, Carter made another high-impact play in the finale against the Colts on Thursday. After the Bengals gave the ball away to Indianapolis, Carter nailed Bryan Bennett to force a fumble that was picked up by rookie Marcus Hardison. It led to a Mike Nugent field goal which ended up being the difference in a 9-6 Bengals win.
Carter spoke with Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com about his preseason and thoughts on his chances for making the roster.
"At the end of the day it’s about being confident when they call a play with your name on it," Carter said. "Even if they don’t, try to make a play as long as it’s in the scheme of the defense... I definitely put a lot of good things on tape. I don’t want to use the term ‘enough,’ too loosely. I’m not a coach so I can’t make all the decisions. I’m definitely comfortable with it."
"I think the biggest thing I’ve learned (in five years) is to block out the stress and just go out there and play," he added. "I’ve turned into a little bit of a perfectionist this year, so there are some things I’m going to go back and obsess over."
Carter doesn't want to be among the players the Bengals cut this weekend.
"Don't call me," he jokingly told Coley Harvey of ESPN. "I'll turn off my ringer. If you're going to cut me, you have to come find me. I'm not picking up the phone because I'm coming into work the next day like I've still got a job."
In the mold of the way the Steelers like their linebackers, Carter spent the beginning of his career in Pittsburgh, but never caught on there. The Bengals use a more traditional defensive look with four defensive linemen, who they prefer to be behemoth-like, not so much the build of Carter.
For a while now, some contributors at Cincy Jungle (namely myself) have maintained the opinion of the team needing a speed rusher to complement the powerful guys they already have up front. The team hasn't seemed to keep and/or use these types on their defense, but Carter could be the one who finally opens the coaching staff's eyes.
The cautionary tale in a similar vein to Carter's preseason success was that of Dontay Moch. The 2011 third round pick was a preseason monster as a speedy rush end in the 2012 preseason, racking up 3.5 sacks; but, it never translated to the regular season. Might the past hinder the staff's decision-making abilities when looking at Carter?
There is little doubt the Bengals need to boost their pass rush after finishing last in the category in 2014. In going over our own roster projections on Wednesday's Inside the Jungle episode, Nick Seuberling, Scott Bantel and I all had Carter making the final roster.
Carter isn't known as a great pass defender, nor is he known as a traditional run-stopper thumper at linebacker. Yes, he's a niche player, but it's a valuable niche in today's NFL--getting to the quarterback. Will it be enough for him to earn a spot on the final roster? If not, will the Bengals regret the decision to cut him, if it's the route they take?