Cornerback Alex Carter missed nearly the entire calendar year of his rookie campaign a season ago. He didn't take part in OTAs last year because NFL rules barred him from being in Allen Park until the end of his academic year at Stanford in June.
When he arrived for training camp, he suffered an ankle injury very early that lingered and kept him on the sideline all of camp. He was placed on short-term injured reserve to start the season, but by the time he returned to practice for a three-week span midseason, he was so far behind coaches couldn't put him on the 53-man roster. Instead, the team officially ended his rookie season by leaving him on injured reserve.
But it's a new year for Carter, and that rocky rookie season is squarely behind him now. He's been a full participant in Detroit's offseason program, and is taking this time to hone his skills while playing a bit of catch up.
"This is where you really get better," Carter said after Thursday's OTA practice. "This time right here. I missed that last year. This is the time where you've got some time to work on your technique, you've got some time to work on those things you're not great at. Now is the time to work on those weaknesses and really get great at those."
Any time young players are able to step on the field with the veterans in a practice setting, there's an opportunity for growth. Carter got mental reps in camp last season, but seeing vs. doing is very different in this league. The mental reps helped him in terms of learning the scheme and his assignment. But can he run with receivers, turn, break on the ball and make a play? That can only be determined by getting reps. Those are the things coaches are determining at this stage of the offseason.
In April, head coach Jim Caldwell said he wasn't expecting miracles when it comes to Carter. That doesn't mean Carter can't have high expectations for himself.
He was exclusively an outside cornerback as a rookie, but coaches are playing him both on the outside and in the slot this offseason, which means more reps and more opportunity to make an impact.
"I love being able to get both reps," Carter said. "You learn more of the defense that way. You get more experience and learn how the defense works."
The top three cornerback positions right now appear to be set with Darius Slay and Nevin Lawson on the outside and Quandre Diggs as the nickel. Carter could still earn a role as a top backup, and with the injury rate at the cornerback position in the NFL, that's an important role.