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After a year away, Alex Carter is ready to show he belongs with Detroit Lions

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Alex Carter has been behind from the beginning. A season ago, after being drafted in the third round by the Detroit Lions, the cornerback had no choice but to sit out the majority of spring workouts due to NFL rules since his school, Stanford, was still in classes.

When he finally did show up, he was picking up things his teammates had already learned. Then, when he returned for training camp and the hope of being on equal enough footing with at least the rest of the rookies, Carter injured his ankle and it cost him his entire first season.

So Carter waited a long time for last week, when he was finally able to fully participate in practice with the Lions and while he doesn’t feel completely like a rookie all over again, there are things he’s still picking up.

“In between [a rookie and second-year player],” Carter said. “I have some experience just because I did get some practice reps and I was in all the meetings so I have some experience, but being on the field and getting those reps, that’s really what matters.”

The mental repetitions he took for the better part of an entire year did help -- as did the meetings and tutoring from an old family friend, the now-retired Rashean Mathis. But he also recognizes conditioning and familiarity does not replace being out on the field.

And it’s what he knows he needs to increase as organized team activities continue this week and eventually turn into minicamp in the middle of June. In Detroit’s one open OTA so far, Carter mostly received reps as a depth cornerback and, with the team’s dime package, as an interior corner on the opposite side of nickel Quandre Diggs.

But Carter is an intriguing player. He has the size (6-foot-1), speed and length defensive coordinator Teryl Austin likes in a cornerback. Of the rest of the corners on the roster other than Darius Slay, Carter might have the best combination of talent, potential and measurable traits.

And everyone involved understands how important this offseason is for his future.

“All across the board, it’s huge for him,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said in March. “He’s got talent, got ability and he’s a big corner. And he comes from a very, very challenging environment both athletically and academically.

“I’m hopeful this will be a great offseason for him. We’re not expecting miracles, but we certainly are expecting him to improve.”

Improvement has been a focus for Carter since the end of last season. Not needing to rest since he didn’t play at all last season, Carter started working out in mid-January, first focusing on making sure his ankle was completely healthy. Then he started conditioning, lifting and trying to make himself stronger and faster as he prepared to finally make his NFL debut.

He even spent some time working with his former quarterback at Stanford, Kevin Hogan, as Hogan was preparing for this year’s NFL draft. Hogan said in February he believed Carter would return better than he was during his final season at Stanford in 2014 and that he appeared stronger.

While that won’t be proven until the season starts in September, Carter knows things are starting to return to normal.