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Friday, October 31, 2008
Tampa Bay's ageless Carter is thriving


Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

 
 Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
 At an age when most players begin to slow down, Kevin Carter continues to thrive for the Buccaneers.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Joey Galloway, whose beard seems to show more gray and white each day, was talking Thursday about his continuing effort to get back to being the wide receiver he was.

Just a few lockers away, defensive end Kevin Carter was talking about why he continues to thrive at 35.

In a Tampa Bay Buccaneers locker room that should feature rocking chairs (Carter, Galloway and linebacker Derrick Brooks are in their 14th season and running back Warrick Dunn, receiver Ike Hilliard and cornerback Ronde Barber are in their 12th), Carter is defying logic and age. All of Tampa Bay's other senior citizens have been fighting injuries or talk that they've lost a step.

Except for Carter.

"That guy's playing as well as just about any defensive end in the league right now,'' a personnel executive for another NFC team said recently.

With 29 tackles and two sacks, Carter is a major reason why Tampa Bay ranks fifth in the league in total defense. But the numbers don't come close to telling the whole story. Carter, who has started all eight games, has given the Bucs consistency at left end as second-year pro Gaines Adams emerges as a star on the right side.

Tampa Bay's run defense is allowing only 3.6 yards a carry and the Bucs haven't allowed a rushing touchdown all season.

"If you watch Kevin Carter play the run, he's still a hard guy to block,'' Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden said. "I've been real impressed with him.''

That's nothing new for Carter. A first-round pick of the St. Louis Rams in 1995, Carter has been a solid-to-spectacular player throughout a career that also has included stops in Tennessee and Miami. He's made two Pro Bowls (1999 and 2002) and his 102.5 career sacks rank second (Jason Taylor has 118) among all active players.

But perhaps the most impressive achievement of Carter's career is happening right now. At an age when most defensive linemen are retired or playing reduced roles, Carter still is playing at a level close to where he's been most of his career.

"More than anything, I'd have to say I'm blessed and lucky,'' Carter said. "I live a moderate life outside of football and I've got a great family. I play on a team that has a really good coach and in a great scheme that allows me to play to my strengths and do the things I like to do. I'm really enjoying myself.''

That state of mind might be the main reason Carter still is going strong at an age where he once thought he'd be retired. With 216 consecutive games played (that's every game of his career), Carter is tied for third among active players with Brooks. Only Giants punter Jeff Feagles (327 games) and Brett Favre (262) have appeared in more consecutive games.

Carter's durability is a tribute to his conditioning. In recent years, he's abandoned the weight room to work on yoga and functional strength training. More than anything, though, Carter said he might have landed in the right place at the right time.

"[Coordinator] Monte Kiffin's defense is geared toward playing fast and hitting,'' Carter said. "It's cool because I feel like a young man in this defense because I see all the guys flying around and I want to do it too. It's contagious and it's peer pressure and I think it's great.''

Carter signed with the Bucs before last season and has been a perfect fit in Kiffin's one-gap scheme.

"Playing a single-gap defense, things are clearly defined,'' Carter said. "That allows you to make decisions and to play fast. With my knowledge of the game and seeing everything that I've seen, having my role clearly defined allows me to play fast and take advantage of what I see and what I know. I believe, over time, the game has slowed down for me.''

The game may have slowed down, but Carter hasn't. He laughs as he recalls a conversation he had a few years back with offensive lineman Ray Brown, who retired in 2005 after 20 NFL seasons. Carter's not sure exactly when the talk took place, but thinks he was probably about 29 and thinking his career was getting close to the end.

"I said to Ray, 'You've got all the money you'll ever need. You don't have to go through this abuse. Why are you still doing it?'" Carter said.

Brown gave Carter an answer that seemed vague and he couldn't really understand it at the time. These days, though, Carter gives the same answer Brown gave him when he's asked why he's still playing.

"Because I can,'' Carter said with a laugh before growing serious. "Now, I pride myself on playing as long as I can. It's an ego boost. It's a cool thing to be playing a game that I love so much and I don't have to grow up.''

Or grow old.