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By TOM SHANAHAN
NFL scouts make their annual trips this time of year to Tuscaloosa, Norman and Columbus to evaluate draft prospects. When they check out of their hotel, they tell the clerk, “Same time, next year.”
But they’re scheduling a new destination as a mandatory trip this year – to West Point.
Andre Carter II, Army’s first post-season All-American pick since 1990 as a third-team choice by the Associated Press, has been named to preseason All-American teams by Phil Steele, Athlon, The Sporting News and Pro Football Network. He’s also on the watch lists for Lombardi, Outland, Walter Camp, Bednarik and Nagurski awards.
All of that is nice, but NFL general managers are the final say on the next level. And there is a growing conversation Carter has been viewed as a potential first-round pick. Where he eventually goes depends on his 2022 season, same as any player.
But Carter’s five-year military commitment upon graduation also factors into the evaluation. The Pentagon’s rules on allowing service academy athletes to adjust their active duty and reserve duty years to pursue professional opportunities change with administrations.
Two undrafted Army players are recent examples.
Alejandro Villanueva, a 2010 West Point grad, played eight NFL seasons prior to announcing his retirement following the 2021 season. He served four years, including as a Ranger in the Afghanistan mountains, before the Pittsburgh Steelers signed him in 2014. John Rhattigan, a 2021 West Point grad, was with the Seattle Seahawks last fall and is in camp again this year.
That’s a lot to digest looking ahead to 2023 – unless you’re Andre Carter. It’s very simple for the 6-foot-7, 260-pounder from Missouri City, Texas, by way of Cheshire Academy in Connecticut. The awards and draft speculation mean nothing to him. His only focus is the September 3 opener at Coastal Carolina.
“I don’t pay attention,” Carter said after a fall camp practice. “My mom, she pays attention to all of that stuff, so I like it more for her. I try to stay focused on our team and getting better in mays we can come together and beat Coastal.
“It doesn’t change how I play or how our team plays. We’ve still got to execute coach woody’s plan. It’s on us to perform.”
Carter also mentioned is job is 1/11th of the team’s mission. Nothing says Army football more than 11 players understanding their need to work as one unit to overcome their shortcoming as roster comprised primarily of 2-star recruits. Especially, when Carter, a generational talent at West Point, embraces the same 1/11th attitude.
“He wants to be the very best he can be,” Army coach Jeff Monken said. “He asks the right questions. He knows there is still room for improvement. That’s the great thing about Andre. He’s really talented, he had a bunch and sacks last year and made a difference for our team, but he realizes he can get better. And there are things he can do better. If he’ll do those he’ll have another good year.”
Carter said his focus has been on gaining strength and improving techniques and fundamentals for pass rushing and shedding blockers. After practice, he visits defensive coordinator Nate Woody’s office for more work.
“Coach Woody is a great coach with a lot of experience,” Carter said. “We’ll go over a lot of stuff. We’re looking at guys in the NFL to see how they’re successful with their rushing moves and seeing which ones I can add to my game. And I’m learning how to study the opponents. What to look for with offensive line and the keys with the quarterback. It’s a wide range of things to help us get better.”
One thing he can count expect without fail is increased attention in the form of double-team blockers or blockers chipping him. He got a healthy dose of it last year as his sack total increased.
“Coach Woody does a great job of putting packages together and moving people around to get the matchups we want,” Carter said. “Sometimes defenses will chip me, but that means somebody else is free with a one on one. You count on everybody to execute their 1/11th and go with the results.”
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