And those changes have the fourth-year veteran on the move this season as the Niners try to maximize Carter's talents and get his production back up to his 2002 standards. "We're taking advantage of him by moving him, bringing him off the edge, dropping him and playing him as a linebacker up," Niners coach Dennis Erickson said. "I really believe we are taking advantage of what he does really well, which is run. He's a good athlete and a good football player, and we've just got to try to get the best out of him and give him the opportunity to make plays. So, we've got to move him to do that." Carter has been a fixture at right end for the Niners, starting every game of his career there after the team traded up to make him its first-round selection – and the No. 7 overall pick – in the 2001 draft. But after a breakout 2002 season during which Carter established himself as one of the NFL's top young pass rushers, the 6-foot-4, 265-pounder's production tailed off dramatically last season. Statistically, it was his worst year. His team-high 12.5 sacks of 2002 fell to 6.5, he had 15 quarterback pressures after leading the team with 27 the season before, and he recorded just 34 tackles after producing 57 as an NFL sophomore. He also forced four fumbles in 2002 and only one last year. His lack of impact had a ripple effect throughout the defense, which was inconsistent in the pass rush all season. "Of course, I wasn't very pleased with the season I had, but I'm not going to really make excuses for myself," Carter told SFI. He doesn't need to. The Niners know what Carter is capable of, so their making him mobile in the new scheme being introduced by first-year defensive coordinator Willy Robinson. Coaches are experimenting with dropping Carter into a linebacker's stance in 3-4 formations and having him play on both sides of the line in the team's standard 4-3 set to help get him back to his 2002 standards. "Sitting him on the offensive tackle the whole game is not best for his productivity," Erickson said. "We've got to move him and slant him and do different things with him, and then we'll get a lot more productivity out of him." The 49ers used Peterson – who sets up at linebacker in their base defense – in similar ways last year, and he led the team in sacks and quarterback pressures on his way to first-team All-Pro honors. The Niners believe that Carter is a better every-down pass rusher – several of Peterson's sacks and hurries came on blitzes – so they will occasionally shift him to the left side in certain passing situations. "He'll be on both (sides)," Erickson said. "We want to be able to take advantage of having him at both places so that if we see some vulnerability against an offensive tackle, we can move him so he can play both sides." Carter has played almost strictly on the right side – where he faces the league's best offensive tackles – since joining the Niners. He has responded well to the changes – "I'm very fortunate to come out here and learn and have these opportunities to grow and develop," he said – but isn't sold yet on the idea that they're the secret to getting him back to full effectiveness. "Who knows?" Carter said. "We'll see. My whole mentality is, when they make that call to a specific play, that I know my assignments, I know my technique and I just go ahead and execute. I don't think you can ever really disguise a player in this league, man. Every team is always going to know (where) players are no matter what. I think the bottom line is you just have to go out there and play your butt off." And the Niners can count on getting the maximum from Carter in that department.
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