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What the return of Andre Carter means for Patriots

10.22.13 at 2:07 pm ET
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Andre Carter previously spent the 2011 season with the Patriots. (AP)

Andre Carter previously spent the 2011 season with the Patriots. (AP)

Three thoughts on the return of Andre Carter to New England:

1. Patriots coach Bill Belichick has long made a habit of collecting veteran defensive linemen and using them to coach up and mentor some of the younger players at the position. It was a tradition that started with the addition of Anthony Pleasant and Bobby Hamilton in 2001 and continued with Keith Traylor and Carter in 2011. (It’s a policy that’s had mixed results — while Pleasant, Traylor and Carter played important roles as mentors for Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork, Albert Haynesworth was also a veteran lineman who came to New England at a similar stage of his career. Him, not so much.)

As a result — without Wilfork in the lineup for the rest of the year and Tommy Kelly facing an uncertain future because of a knee injury — it’s reasonable to think that Carter has been added to a positional grouping as a mentor for younger defensive ends like Michael Buchanan, Jake Bequette and Chandler Jones, as well as the rest of a defensive line that features rookies like Joe Vellano and Chris Jones and second-year player Marcus Forston. He’s a smart guy who commands respect in the locker room, and will be welcomed with open arms by a team that has lost some significant leadership on the defensive side of the ball.

2. You have to figure he still has a little something left in the tank. He shouldn’t be expected to instantly step in and be an every-down presence for New England, but if the Patriots can have him work as a rotational pass rusher, monitor his snaps and use him appropriately, there’s no reason to think he couldn’t have an occasional impact at defensive end.

3. While he did have some positional versatility earlier in his career, Carter is not a defensive tackle, so he should not be expected to step in and instantly provide depth and support in the trenches. What he does do is give you some ability to shift some guys around and utilize some of the versatile players they do have along that defensive front seven. Chandler Jones has spent some time this season working occasionally at defensive tackle, and Carter could provide an edge presence when Jones is kicked inside. (The Patriots previously have been using Buchanan on the edge in those situations.) There’s also the possibility — however remote — that the Patriots could consider occasionally moving the smart and versatile Rob Ninkovich from his defensive end spot to outside linebacker (a position he’s played before) and have Carter take some of those snaps at defensive end in his place. That would allow Ninkovich to provide depth at a linebacker spot that is still looking to rebound from losing Jerod Mayo for the season. Carter’s arrival opens up some new possibilities that the Patriots didn’t have before.

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