Buccaneers LB Bruce Carter capitalized late in 'frustrating' season

TAMPA, Fla. -- Bruce Carter's first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was far different than expected. Last March, he signed a four-year, $17 million deal as a free agent and was thought to be the incoming starter at middle linebacker.

But rookie Kwon Alexander made a strong early impression and won the starting job in training camp. Carter played sporadically until taking on a larger role late in the season, after Alexander's four-game suspension for a violation of the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

"It was very frustrating -- I can't lie," Carter said Monday, describing the season. "But at the same time, being a professional, you've got to take the good with the bad. I was just trying to stay in it. I didn't want to be one of those guys who was walking around moping the whole year and just being a cancer to the team.

"So I just tried to do my best wherever they put me. And then when my opportunity came, I just wanted to go out there and play as hard as I could."

Carter made 32 starts in four seasons with the Cowboys. He started three times in 14 games for the Buccaneers, making 47 tackles and picking up two sacks. He was limited to special-teams work and no more than 17 defensive snaps in a game through the first 11 contests. He played 307 defensive snaps total, with 214 of them coming in Weeks 14, 16 and 17. He didn't play in Week 15 because of an ankle injury.

Carter's best game came last Sunday against the Panthers, when he tied linebacker Lavonte David for a game-high 12 tackles. Carter also had a game-high five solo tackles and one sack.

"It felt good just to get out there and showcase what I could do," Carter said. "I'm a guy with a lot of confidence, so I knew I could play often. Hopefully, I proved that to the coaches and my teammates as well. Each year, you've got to get better and better. You can't get complacent with where you are as a player. So for me this offseason, I'm just going to continue to work harder and see where that goes."

Although Carter's season didn't go as planned, his production during Alexander's suspension showed he's capable of providing valuable depth. Carter is owed a $3.5 million base salary with a $750,000 roster bonus next season, but the chances of him ever starting at middle linebacker in front of a healthy, productive Alexander appear slim.

Still, Carter is prepared to move forward. He remains hopeful about the Buccaneers' direction as the organization seeks to snap its eight-season playoff drought.

"I just think we've got to get over the hump," he said. "I mean, a game here and a game there, just to get over the hump. And I think when we can do that, I think that's when we'll start progressing in the direction that we want to go."