Defensive end Markell Carter spent his first NFL season on the New England Patriots' practice squad. Yet the the 22-year-old is doing everything in his power to make the 53-man roster for the 2012 season.
"I'm more organized," Carter told the media on May 12. "I'm more of a professional now. I understand my role. I understand what I have to do to achieve that role, and that's mainly my focus."
Last season, Carter gave the Patriots his best effort day in and day out on the practice squad, and he was named Practice Player of the Week seven times, ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss reports.
As an undersized pass-rusher from Central Arkansas, Carter wasn't on many NFL draft boards. However, the Patriots liked his abilities enough to select him in the sixth round of the 2011 draft.
At the Division I FCS level, Carter excelled, notching 30.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks in his junior and senior campaigns.
During his final collegiate season, the 6'4" Carter weighed in at 250 pounds. Since then, he's beefed up to 275 pounds as he strives to make his presence felt next season.
"I've gained a few pounds," Carter told Pats beat writer Jeff Howe. "I've gained some explosiveness, and just a lot of work in the weight room was my main focus this offseason."
On the Patriots' depth chart, Carter finds himself behind Chandler Jones, Brandon Deaderick, Jonathan Fanene, Trevor Scott, Jake Bequette and Jermaine Cunningham at defensive end. Nonetheless, No. 49 believes his time on the practice squad has helped him become the player he wants to be, regardless of whether he's playing defensive end, outside linebacker or on special teams.
"Having that time on the practice squad, it gave me a lot of time to develop, a lot of time to find out who I was as a football player and even as a man myself, just being on my own," Carter said.
He's been humbled, he's matured and now he's just trying to accomplish the task at hand.
"All I'm trying to do is come in today and get better," Carter said on the Patriots Football Weekly radio show. "I mean, I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow or anything like that. So all I can do is come in every day, and hopefully the hard work that I put in the weight room and on the field will show on Sundays."
On the weekend of May 11, Carter was working out at the Patriots' rookie minicamp since he's still considered a first-year player. That said, Carter is just trying to show the coaches that he's willing to do whatever it takes.
“One thing I'd say is that the Patriots got a winner," said Central Arkansas defensive coordinator Matt Williamson in an interview with Mike Reiss. "He wants to win, whether it's in his college algebra class, or on the field. That's his mentality and I think that's helped him become the player he is."
Despite not playing in a single game during the 2011 regular season, Carter still managed to impress the Patriots organization enough to receive a pay raise from $150,000 to over $300,000, according to WEEI's Christopher Price.
"I learned the Patriots way, how to handle myself with this whole new situation that I'm kind of being thrown into," Carter said at minicamp.
The future is uncertain for Markell Carter. He may not make the active roster, he may not make the practice squad—but his hustle and grit give him a great chance to beat the odds.