Originally created 08/09/99

Carter on collision course for Falcons

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- The drill is called Oklahoma, and it involves one Falcons defensive back and one Falcons receiver knocking heads in a tackling practice.

Octavus Barnes had the unfortunate luck of seeing Marty Carter head his way.

Carter's collision with Barnes drew an assortment of oohs and ahs from his defensive teammates, and left the second-year receiver wondering if he was in Oklahoma or the upstate South Carolina.

And in that moment, the Falcons realized what this free safety free-agent signee from the Bears brings to the secondary.

"Marty just loves contact," cornerback Ray Buchanan said. "This team hasn't had a guy like him, someone who's going to knock your head off, since Scott Case. The first couple days of practice, (coach) Dan (Reeves) had to slow him down because he was trying to take out every receiver we had."

Full throttle is his style, full contact his mantra.

While spending the last four seasons with Chicago, the corn-rowed Carter averaged 160 tackles. In the Bears scheme, Carter spent most of his safety time lined up as a linebacker, and wherever the ball went, he was usually in the vicinity.

His best year came in 1996, when he had 180 tackles, 102 solo, and three interceptions. In one stretch that season, Carter recorded 11 tackles against the Saints, 15 at the Vikings, 13 vs. Tampa Bay and 17 against the Lions.

The NFL does not keep tabs on tackle records, but it's hard to imagine a safety with similar numbers. For perspective, the year Carter had 180, Falcons middle linebacker Jessie Tuggle had 184 tackles.

The man Carter replaces, free safety William White, had 84 tackles and two interceptions a year ago. Carter's younger, bigger at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, and more violent than White, three reasons the Falcons are raving about his addition.

"People might think because we were so bad that teams were just gashing us and I'd make a bunch of tackles 15 yards deep," said Carter, who has got a Rottweiler look to him. "But I just look for contact. I was put in the position to make all the plays because teams ran on us a lot. Someone had to make the tackle."

All his production, though, rarely translated into wins. The Bears won 23 games in Carter's four years, and he realized midway through last season's 4-12 campaign that he wanted to play for a winner.

"When we played the Falcons last year, you could see the confidence in their eyes," said Carter, who had a personal-best 18 tackles in the Falcons' 20-13 win. "Then when I looked at my team, I didn't see the talent or the commitment to get better. Year after year they let go of key guys that you have to have. How can you win with a situation like that. I had to leave."

So the LaGrange native and eight-year veteran became one of the hottest commodities this off-season, getting offers from the Ravens, the Saints, the Browns, the Bears and the Eagles.

He signed a five-year, $15 million deal, including a $2.6 million signing bonus, with Atlanta because of the team's proximity to his hometown, and because "I went from a last place team in the Central to the NFC champions. That's not a hard choice."

Now his role will not be to make every tackle, or to be the Falcons' fourth linebacker.

"If Marty leads us in tackles, then we'll be in trouble," secondary coach Ron Meeks joked.

Carter will be asked to remain in coverage more, reading the tight ends and running backs, and to be the intimidating force for receivers to think about if they come across the middle.

"I pity the first guy who thinks he can cross Marty's territory," Buchanan said.

Said Meeks: "We're going to need Marty to bring us a physical presence that neither William nor Eugene (Robinson) has. He's got this tenacity in him that you just to see in a football player."

Rick Dorsey can be reached at (706) 823-3219 or rdorsey@augustachronicle.com.


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