Andre Carter: It was Pats or retirement

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Veteran defensive end Andre Carter had a plan in place.

After 12 NFL seasons, he was prepared to transition to the next phase of his career, in sports broadcasting. At the same time, he was leaving the door open for one possibility to play again.

"Patriots or bust," he explained Wednesday.

The call, slightly unexpected, came Monday when long-time Patriots director of scouting administration Nancy Meier contacted Carter and asked simply, "How quickly can you be here?"

Carter was on a red-eye flight from California to Boston that night. He arrived at 5:40 a.m. Tuesday, has been going "100,000 miles per hour" in getting up to speed with changes to the defense, and his presence during the media-access period in the locker room Wednesday resulted in a large crowd surrounding him.

"It's great. Me and my wife were talking [how] this place holds a special meaning, not just as far as what I did, but just the camaraderie that I had here in 2011 -- the town, the city of Foxborough, the state. It was very memorable and I'm just blessed to be back," said Carter, who wore No. 93 two seasons ago but will now don No. 96.

Carter played a key role on defense in 2011, but a season-ending quad injury knocked him out of the final two regular-season games and the playoffs. He ended up signing with the Raiders in 2012 and played 12 games for them last year in a reserve role.

"I think what hurt was that we didn't win it all," he said of the 2011 season in New England. "At the end of the day, business is business. I still kept in contact with [Jerod] Mayo and [Vince] Wilfork, a lot of my teammates, and told them they would continue to be brothers. As you know, the game moves on. The Patriots are always going to be in my heart no matter what.”

Carter had worked out for the Patriots on Sept. 9 of this season but said he didn't have any feeling that the club would sign him. Members of the organization told him "you never know what may happen", and that's when Carter put his plans in place.

“After I did my workout with the Patriots, I had talked to my family and my mindset was 'it was either the Patriots or retirement.' That's where it was," he said. "Fortunately the Patriots called."

Carter went through his first practice with the team Wednesday, a full-pads session which is the type of work that can't be replicated at home.

"I did a lot of Cross Fit workouts, but Cross Fit is a lot different from going on the field," he said, before adding: "I felt good today. I didn't feel too winded.”

Carter relayed that the defensive termoinology is essentially the same as 2011, but as is the case with most every team, there are tweaks that make some aspects different. Then, of course, there are changes in personnel.

Asked what stands out to him about the defense now, compared to 2011, Carter said: "Young, we're young. It's a very talented group of guys, a very talented group of individuals. I'm sure they're trying to find their niche and their place, just like any young team. ... I think the most important thing is just to remain consistent and understand how this game is played."