- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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This time he feels different. This time Adam Carriker says he's confident his optimism will be rewarded, mainly with a return to the field. He expressed a similar hope last offseason. It wasn't grounded in reality.
Then, he was doing two hours of rehab on his right quadriceps twice a day at Redskins Park, then another two at home. Just like he is now. But the results, he said, are different.
"I was seeing a little gains, but not a whole lot," the Redskins defensive end said. "That was the frustrating part about last year and what is different about this year. This year I can see the gains and see the range of motion improving. It feels a lot different than last year."
The question is: Will that be enough to keep him in Washington?
He counts $6.5 million against the salary cap in 2014, a hefty sum for someone who has missed the last 30 regular-season games and turns 30 before training camp. The Redskins could release him and save approximately $3 million in cap space, freeing up more cash to not only re-sign linebacker Brian Orakpo and other of their own free agents, but also fill other holes.
But, despite the speculation, Carriker said he's not worried.
"I run into people in the hall and talk, but nothing has been brought up [about his contract]," Carriker said. "I understand how the NFL works. [But] there's no doubt in my mind they want me around. They like a lot of things about me. They know I can play. They know I know the defense very well. Even if you bring a guy in, unless you see him in your exact scheme it's hard to know if a guy will work. They know I can do it. Plus I've been battling every day for a year and a half. I think they like and respect that. They've also seen the progress.
"It's just a matter of me getting back to full speed and getting 100 percent back to normal. Without a doubt they want me back."
Even if they released him, the Redskins could re-sign Carriker to a lesser incentive-laden deal. Carriker had just started to show what he could do as a 3-4 defensive end, recording a career-best 5.5 sacks in 2011. His sacks were the result of winning one-on-one battles and not flukes. He felt confident in what offenses were trying to do and how he could win battles. The Redskins' defensive ends have combined for only four sacks the past two years.
Carriker has a ways to go to complete his recovery. He's had three surgeries on his right quadriceps and hasn't played since Week 2 of 2012 when he initially hurt his knee. Family members -- his mom is a retired nurse; his sister is a physical therapist -- urged him to move on from football (though he now says they've changed their stance), seeing what he had to endure. Redskins coaches kept him around last year because of how he worked; any other player, one coach said, and they would have been cut knowing the odds of this recovery.
Carriker said he noticed a big jump in his recovery once the season ended and he was able to receive even more attention from the training staff. He is not 100 percent, but he said he is running without discomfort. He's not sure if he'll be ready for any minicamps or the organized team activities, but is optimistic about training camp.
"It's only February and camp is a long ways away," Carriker said. "Am I happy I've progressed and am better? Yes. But as a competitor I'm never where I want to be. I know I've progressed and progressed quite a bit. I have a lot of work to do, but I have a lot of time to do it."
Still, he said this is the first time in his career he's looking forward to training camp. The journey over the past 18 months has whetted his appetite for anything football.
"There have been a couple hiccups in this process," he said. "It can be frustrating. It can get you upset and get you down. But when the hiccups happened I'd be mad and down, but give me 48 hours and I felt like a caged tiger at the zoo waiting for the door to open."