Carter trades in maroon for purple at Metrodome

David La

He was kept out of the defensive lineup until late in the game, then kept out of action by his position at free safety.
He missed a few tackles and admits to having misread a few alignments, but his indomitable spirit held up just fine.
Following his NFL debut with the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday night, former Gophers star Tyrone Carter’s wide eyes and smiles told the story.
“It was great to be out there again,” Carter said. “It was a learning experience. I watched Orlando Thomas and Robert Griffith do their thing from the sidelines, so that when I got in there, I was ready.”
Carter took the field with the defense on the last play of the third quarter, following brief stints on the special teams in the second and third quarters. He remained in the defensive lineup the rest of the evening.
Positioned at free safety deep in the secondary, Carter spent most of his time running up to join the fray whenever possible. This role as the Vikings last resort sharply contrasted Carter’s former duties with the Gophers, when he usually arrived at the ball first.
Asked for a self-assessment of his game, Carter admitted to “tentative” as the operative word in his performance.
“When you’re back there as a free safety, you’ve got to take a touchdown-saving approach,” Carter said. “You’ve got to breakdown a little more and secure the tackle. I’m used to going right at them.”
In college, Carter played near the line of scrimmage, much like a linebacker but with more speed. He is the NCAA’s all-time leader in tackles by a defensive back, registering 528 career stops. Following the 1999 season, Carter was awarded the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the top defensive back in the nation.
Drafted in the fourth round by Minnesota in April, Carter is working his way up a depth chart chock-full of talented veterans. At the starting positions are Thomas and Griffith, two of the NFL’s best safeties. Behind that pair are four players with at least one year’s experience.
“I think Tyrone did a solid job,” coach Dennis Green said. “He’s in the hunt with Don Morgan, Anthony Bass, Anthony Marshall and Antonio Banks. All five of those guys are fighting for those two or three spots at the safety position. But Tyrone seemed to be doing a good job.”
Endorsements for Carter came from more than just the coaching staff. Though competing with Carter for playing time, Banks also thinks well of the rookie.
“I think he’s going to be a good safety in this league,” Banks said. “Right now, he’s just getting used to the speed of things and just seeing it. He’s quick, fast and likes to hit. That’s my kind of player.”
Carter and the Vikings, who lost to New Orleans 25-24, return to Mankato for a week of practice and preparation, then head to San Diego for an Aug. 12 game with the Chargers.
For Carter, the game experience Saturday provides him with a list of objectives to accomplish this week in practice.
“I’m going to work on tackling more now and reading my keys,” Carter said. “Wherever they want me to play, I’m going to play and make the best of it.
“I look forward to next week.”

Billy makes his return
Former Gophers quarterback Billy Cockerham also appeared in Saturday’s game, returning a Saints kick for 17 yards. Cockerham is listed as the Vikings fourth quarterback on the depth chart.
Though he has played in the Metrodome for four seasons, Cockerham was impressed with the noise made by the 63,445 fans on-hand.
“I never heard it that loud in the Dome, even when we played Wisconsin,” Cockerham said.
Saturday’s crowd set a Vikings preseason single-game attendance record.
A former Gophers gathering
All told, four former Gophers appeared in Saturday’s game. Craig Sauer appeared at linebacker for the Vikings while New Orleans wide receiver Ryan Thelwell caught three passes for 27 yards.
Sauer is a five-year NFL veteran, while Thelwell is entering his second year.

David La Vaque welcomes comments at [email protected]