Currently on the Carriker family’s digital video recorder is the three-hour telecast of the Washington Redskins‘ Aug. 18 preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts. Adam Carriker did not play in that forgettable exhibition because of severe blisters on his heels, but his wife, Angie, recorded it anyway, as she always does. During the broadcast, Adam participated in a sideline TV interview. His smiling face was shown up close to the extreme delight of his 2-year-old son, Jacob, who the Carrikers call “Junior.” He jumped up from his little chair and shuffled to the TV, stopping with his face only an inch from the screen.
“Any time he’s upset or mad, she’ll turn on the Colts game and go to my interview,” Adam said. “That calms him right down. We can’t delete that thing ever.”
It wasn’t always that way. Eighteen months ago he was disillusioned. The St. Louis Rams, who drafted him 13th overall in 2007, had deployed him as a nose guard, a position foreign to him and one for which his talents were not best suited. His play suffered, and he felt the weight of unfulfilled potential and expectations.
Recognizing the failure, the Rams traded him to the Redskins in April 2010 and effectively gave him a fresh start. Now Carriker is a productive left defensive end in the Redskins‘ 3-4 defense. Sunday’s game against his former team will be his 20th consecutive start for Washington. Finally, he has found a good fit.
“I knew what happened there was B.S., so when I came here I expected to do this,” Carriker said. “And it feels good.”
Carriker, 27, was one of the nation’s best defensive ends at the University of Nebraska. He had 20.5 sacks during his four seasons, which ranked sixth in school history. Big 12 coaches named him the conference’s defensive lineman of the year following his senior season. He foresaw a professional career as a big-time playmaker.
The Rams drafted him high but played him on the interior line as a nose guard. Instead of changing games with sacks, he consistently faced double teams.
“If I had any criticism of the St. Louis organization, it’s that they put players out of position a lot,” said Redskins safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, who teamed with Carriker in St. Louis for Carriker’s entire tenure there. “With Adam, they drafted him and made him play 3-technique or nose tackle, and that’s not what he’s naturally gifted at doing, so he’s not going to realize his full potential.”
Carriker totaled only two sacks in his first two seasons. Then he missed all of 2009 with a shoulder injury. And when any first-round pick is unproductive and injured, the organization and fans begin to consider him a bust.
“One guy labels me and all of a sudden the bandwagon effect came on,” Carriker said.
Asked to elaborate, he declined. Those details aren’t important to him anymore.
The clouds parted on that morning two Aprils ago when he walked into Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo’s office and saw general manager Billy Devaney waiting for him with a plane ticket to Washington.
He joined the Redskins under defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, who held the same position with St. Louis when Carriker was drafted. Rather than continue with the nose guard experiment, though, Haslett learned from the experience and slotted him at defensive end.
“He’s a big, strong, physical guy that can 2-gap and eat up space,” Haslett said. “Obviously he fits in this scheme better than he does that scheme.”
“Anybody that knows Adam knows he will work harder than anybody on the team,” Angie Carriker said. “I really think that’s what got him through it. Like, ‘I’m gonna prove you wrong. You made a mistake.’”
That helps him on the outside of the Redskins‘ defensive front. His responsibilities including setting the edge in the run game, keeping offensive linemen from releasing to Washington’s linebackers and rushing the passer in some nickel situations.
He still isn’t the overpowering pass-rushing end he was at Nebraska, but he has an improved outlook now.
“Sometimes I’ll take a chance to try to make a play, but for the most part I try to do my responsibility, and I think the coaches like that and respect that,” Carriker said. “They know I’m going to be in my gap. They know I’m not going to get pushed around. That left side, that’s where all the runs are at. You need a big guy like me.”
That Week 3 contest was a special source of motivation for him. Sunday’s game, he insists, is against any old opponent.
“Last year, I was pretty angry and upset,” Carriker said. “Now I look back on it, I actually wish them the best in every game except for Sunday. I think they did me a favor. It wasn’t working out, and they put me in a much better spot personally. Maybe I should send them a thank you after Sunday.”