Ravens' Carter is a survivor

OWINGS MILLS – Dale Carter's faith, patience and ability to survive have been pushed to the brink. The Baltimore Ravens' veteran cornerback has endured multiple setbacks, including a life-threatening blood clot in his lungs last year. Now, Carter, 35, is on the verge of playing football in an NFL game for the first time in two years when the Ravens play the New Orleans Saints on Friday night at the Superdome.

If the imposing, four-time Pro Bowl selection's bruised tibia cooperates after keeping him out for the past two weeks, the Ravens plan to start him in place of injured cornerback Samari Rolle.

Carter hasn't lost the perspective he gained from his dire straits last year.

"Football was the farthest thing from my mind," said Carter, reflecting on last July when he was in a Houston hospital after nearly passing out during a workout. "Living was my No. 1 priority. I wasn't worried about anything else.

"I had a chance to sit back and think about all the things you take for granted. All this is extra now. I go out here happy every day and having fun."

Carter was placed on the non-football injury list last season and was prescribed blood thinners for nearly seven months. Because of the blood clot last year and leg bruise that kept him out of the first two preseason games, Carter hasn't played since November of 2003 when he was with the Saints.

Twenty-one months is practically an eternity for a football player, particularly for a defensive back as old as Carter.

After his medical problems and five past violations of the NFL substance-abuse policy, transgressions he appears to have put behind him, Carter qualifies as a true survivor and not the contrived reality-show variety.

"He's one of the most impressive stories we have right now," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "It's been great to see Dale go through the transformation that he's gone through."

Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan and secondary coach Johnnie Lynn said that they hope to use Carter extensively on Friday, but need to see how he does in practice this week before making a final determination. Lynn indicated after Tuesday's fully-padded practice that Carter looked fine.

The Ravens are counting on getting a combined total of 16 games at nickel back out of Carter and Deion Sanders, but this latest injury cast that outlook in doubt.

For Carter, it's been a frustrating period of watching and waiting, and watching and waiting some more.

"I said, ‘Lord, you didn't bring me this far for this,'" Carter said. "It's kind of frustrating. I just need to control myself.

"I haven't played in a while. I know my bone is going to be hurting a little bit. I just got to pace myself."

When healthy, Carter's skills haven't been in question. Entering his 12th season, Carter has intercepted 24 career passes, registered 641 tackles and deflected 126 passes.

Although he's never played in a game for Baltimore, Carter is respected highly by teammates because of his resume and what he's been through.

To prepare for this season after not being able to run for a half-year because of the blood clot, Carter did cardio exercises twice a day to regain his conditioning.

"It makes you appreciate the game even more, and puts things in perspective for you," said Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed, who's nine years younger than Carter. "At the same time, it makes you more excited because you can feel the energy he brings."

In the autumn of his career, Carter just wants to enjoy these final days in the NFL and make them last as long as he can.

Carter has matured to the point where he says the nerves are no longer there.

"The butterflies went out in college, man," Carter said. "My first year in the pros, the butterflies were gone. You just go out and do what you do best. I'm looking forward to Friday. I can't wait."

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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