Ravens' Fuller, Carter share similarities.

OWINGS MILLS – Staring forward at receivers trying to invade their territory, Dale Carter and Corey Fuller delay patterns with trademark roughhouse tactics before backpedaling into the secondary.<br><br> It's a technique both of the Baltimore Ravens' veteran cornerbacks have executed thousands of times since joining the NFL over a decade ago.<br>

With Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister absent because of a contract dispute and Gary Baxter recovering from abdominal hernia surgery, Carter, 34, and Fuller, 33, are running with the starters this week at a mandatory minicamp.

For Carter, a four-time Pro Bowl selection and a five-time violator of the NFL substance-abuse policy who is one strike away from a permanent ban, a one-year, veteran minimum contract represents another fresh start.

"When you have your ups and downs in life, they make you stronger," said Carter, who has intercepted 24 passes in a dozen seasons during prior stints with the Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings, Denver Broncos and New Orleans Saints. "I'm obviously not the same person I was a few years ago because I overcame a lot of stuff. It made me a stronger person.

"I wouldn't say I've slowed down, but I've started thinking more positively, knowing what's right from wrong. I knew right from wrong, but now I choose to do the right thing. This is my passion."

For Fuller, who faces felony gambling and firearm charges and a misdemeanor gambling charge in Florida after being beset by injuries last season, football is a welcome distraction from his legal troubles.

Fuller's grandmother died during his tumultuous off-season that included: a shootout with a masked intruder at his home in Tallahassee, Fla.; with law enforcement officers raiding his house months later and taking him away in handcuffs to jail as a man accused of officiating over high-stakes card games while wearing a handgun on his hip.

He has vowed to leave his hometown once the situation is resolved.

"I'm blessed," Fuller said. "I'm living, and that's the bottom line. It seems like the devil is always at work, but I know what it takes to overcome the devil. 

"I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy, but nobody victimized me. I victimized myself. Right now, I'm at peace, back on a football field. I kind of like it quiet out there." 

The collective experience and skills of Fuller and Carter are valued highly by the team. Both are contending for nickel and dime package duties along with Chad Williams, Ray Walls and Bart Scott.

"That's a cumulative knowledge as a coach you can only hope to communicate," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "The younger players can tap into that."

In particular, Carter has been impressive this week in shadowing receivers and intercepting passes. At 6-foot-1, 194 pounds, he blends ideal size with speed. Fuller said he has lost a few pounds from last season, but is still listed at 5-10, 220 pounds.

"Both of those guys are up there in years where it would be foolish of us to rely on them on an every-down basis," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "I think both have some time left and are doing a good job. When it's coming to a close to some degree, it's like the realization of growing up and leaving the nest. 

"There will be a day at some point where they've got to pay the bills without football. But that's not right now."

The shootout was the most sobering experience for Fuller. Twenty gunshots were exchanged and his home was riddled with bullet holes, but no one was hurt or arrested.

"Football is secondary to people kicking in your door, shooting at you and you've got to shoot back in self-defense," said Fuller, who posted an unclaimed reward for his assailant's capture. 

Including Fuller, Jamal Lewis (federal drug conspiracy) and Terrell Suggs (aggravated assault), Ravens players face six felonies in three states.

"I think even in the midst of a storm you can find a silver lining," Fuller said. "Somebody can learn from this situation from myself, Jamal and Terrell."

In 2000, Carter was suspended for 1 ½ years for violating the league's drug and alcohol policies.

He signed a seven-year, $28 million contract with New Orleans in 2002, but was suspended again and eventually reinstated. The NFL management council told Carter he must abstain from any use of alcohol. Carter said drinking a few beers triggered his suspension.

Carter filed for bankruptcy Feb. 15, 2002, listing his debts to more than 20 creditors as $4.9 million and his assets at more than $1 million. He ended last year on injured reserve after starting eight games for the Saints.

Now, he has another chance to play football after joining the Ravens.

"I've been in the league 12 years and I've got everything I want, but I don't have a ring and I have a good chance to get one here," Carter said. "I love the chances of this team. With the chemistry they have here, I was like in awe."

NOTES: Offensive tackle Orlando Brown was excused from practice for personal reasons. … The Ravens were joined by three players returning from NFL Europe: receiver Todd Devoe, offensive tackle Tony Pashos and linebacker James Harrison. Defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin is preparing for the World Bowl with the Frankfurt Galaxy. … Rookie receiver Devard Darling made an acrobatic sideline catch and ran it in for a touchdown. … Linebackers coach Mike Singletary isn't here this week following the death of his mother. … Safety Will Demps will donate a pool table today to the Baltimore Police Athletic League.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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