DeAndre Carter hears the whispers and is listening intently. With injuries to special-team members T.J. Carrie and Taiwan Jones, the former Sacramento State wideout has been placed on alert. There is a chance – a decent chance, anyway – that the Raiders rookie will be promoted from the practice squad and make his NFL debut Sunday against the Broncos.
Carter, a native of nearby Fremont, has his fingers crossed and the highest of hopes. The setting at the old Coliseum will be somewhat familiar. The tailgaters will include many of the friends and relatives who attended pregame barbecues just outside Hornet Stadium.
But Carter also is a realist. His business has a brutal turnover rate. Undrafted following a record-breaking season at Sac State, the four-year Hornets starter was cut by the Baltimore Ravens after fumbling twice in the first two preseason games. He worked out for the New York Jets and never heard back. His favorite team since boyhood – the 49ers – never reached out.
So when the Raiders called, he rushed home as quickly as possible.
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“I was excited,” Carter said after practice Wednesday. “You go from being on the Ravens, to getting cut, then getting picked up by somebody offering me another opportunity. The chance to come back home makes it even more special.”
Carter was one of the most liked and respected players on a high-powered Hornets roster that featured his close friend, quarterback Garrett Safron. He routinely coaxed Safron or one of the Hornets’ assistants to stay after practice to throw him passes.
Known for his lateral speed and quick cuts after making the catch, the thick, dynamic 5-foot-9 wideout was the program’s only All-Big Sky Conference selection his senior season. Wearing his familiar No. 2 jersey, he was a standout a year ago on the Hornets’ most successful team (7-5) since 2000. He also set season records with 99 receptions for 1,321 yards and 17 touchdowns, and, in one of his proudest moments, returned a punt against Portland State for a 65-yard score.
I was excited. You go from being on the Ravens, to getting cut, then getting picked up by somebody offering me another opportunity. The chance to come back home makes it even more special.
Former Sacramento State receiver DeAndre Carter, about signing with the Raiders
But the part about being a realist? Carter, 22, carried a full load of classes at Sac State and earned a communications degree in four years. He wanted an NFL career, but he wanted options. Because of his limited size and explosiveness, the Raiders are evaluating him as a return specialist, a position weakened last Sunday with injuries to Carrie and Jones.
“I feel like I’m more of a natural receiver,” Carter said. “I like the nuances, the challenges of getting open, tracking the deep ball. But I can play all three positions. The thing I like about returning punts and kicks is that they can be game changers.”
Carter has spent part of this week catching passes from backup quarterback Matt McGloin, doubling as the Denver Broncos’ Peyton Manning. Carter laughs; not a bad day job.
I feel like I’m more of a natural receiver. I like the nuances, the challenges of getting open, tracking the deep ball. But I can play all three positions. The thing I like about returning punts and kicks is that they can be game changers.
As he lingered in the locker room Wednesday, he seemed to be soaking it all in and enjoying himself.
Veteran wideout Michael Crabtree sat to his right, quietly gathering his belongings. Quarterback Derek Carr wandered in and out, as he often does, bantering with teammates. In the background, several other Raiders were engaged in a raucous game of indoor basketball – the basket resembling a bucket.
Carter, who says he studies Crabtree’s catching technique and what he calls rookie Amari Cooper’s “phenomenal” route-running, brightened visibly at the mention of Sac State. He stays in touch with Mikh McKinney, the former Hornets star point guard and one of his best friends since childhood, and Safron occasionally texts.
Carter’s memories also include the emotional support he received during his sophomore season, when one of his younger brothers suffered a fatal heart attack while lifting weights.
“I’m fine physically,” Carter quickly added. “I got all checked out.”
As for a possible NFL debut in front of the home crowd, Carter smiled, unable to contain his excitement.
“They (coaches) sort of let know me it was possible. We’re a little banged up. But a lot of my friends and family already bought tickets, so they’ll be there anyway. We’ll just have to see.”