Jalil Carter doesn’t buy conventional wisdom, at least not when it comes to a certain football adage that has long been accepted by many.
“I’ve heard the perfect pass beats great coverage any day,” he began. “I don’t know if I believe that. If you want to believe that you can but while you’re believing that, I’m finding a way to not let that happen ever again.”
Carter is looking back on the Henry Burris bomb to receiver Kierrie Johnson, in the final minute of Ottawa’s 18-17 win over the Toronto Argonauts, last Friday night. Out on an island at corner, Carter provided tight coverage that looked pretty much spot on. Yet Johnson made the catch at the Argos’ 21 yard line.
It was one of those plays that might have you believing that a perfect throw will always beat outstanding coverage. Not Carter.
A conversation with the third year Argo defensive back is an energetic affair, he talks like he runs and that is saying something. With 4.3, 40-yard dash speed, Jalil Carter’s feet may fly, but they haven’t got a thing on his tongue. With humour and frankness, Carter crams a lot of insight into his answers and even after a taxing and muggy practice, he still has an impressive amount of voltage remaining.
He used some of it on explaining the differences between playing corner and half, on learning something he didn’t really need to know in college, and, yes, on that fateful play that gave the Ottawa REDBLACKS a game winning field goal on Friday night.
“I made a false step at the line of scrimmage and he had a step on me from the line so I kind of had to catch him,” said Carter, of that Burris to Johnson catch.
Carter’s great speed had allowed him to make up for that loss at the line, and he was close enough to try to disrupt Johnson’s clutching of a ball delivered by Burris some 55 yards away.
“I pulled his arm after he caught it and everything. He made a great catch. The pass was perfect. Can’t take anything away from Hank. It was a really good ball and a nice catch.”
Carter had a pretty good night in Ottawa, looking comfortable and polished while starting at corner for the first time (outside of pre-season) since the Grey Cup game in 2012. You may recall that he had replaced an injured Pat Watkins for that game and the Eastern Final before it. There had been great concern, what with a sparingly used rookie filling the shoes of someone who was having an all-star season.
Carter was good in those two games. He might have remained anchored at corner in 2013 had the Argos not already been set at the position. Instead, he played that season at halfback, continuing to learn how to cover receivers in the maelstrom of waggles, crossing patterns and defensive switches.
In college, I didn’t know how,” he said of pass coverage techniques. “I was a safety. I was basically a linebacker. I didn’t play very much man coverage. I didn’t learn a lot of that stuff until I got up here.”
Jalil Carter was in coverage on Ottawa’s Kierre Johnson all night in Week 4, caught up in a play that would eventually decide the outcome of the game.
At the University of Akron, safeties had a lot of run support duties to fulfill and Carter had no problem with that. He loves the contact in traffic and had his six foot-one frame filled out more than his current 205 pounds or so, he might have found a home closer to the line of scrimmage.
“I used to wish I was a little bigger,” he admits. “I have the height for linebacker but not the weight. If I were 30 or 40 pounds heavier I would love to play linebacker.”
Then his voice, already raised a notch as he considered the prospect of laying licks on running backs on a full-time basis, rose another octave: “I would love it!”
I ask him; “What’s so great about being a linebacker, just hitting guys?” Carter finds yet another octave. “Yes!”
“If you see a hole,” he adds, “odds are the running back sees it too. So, if you run to that hole, he’s gonna be right there, so it’s mano a mano in that hole and I just love it.”
You never know what the future may hold. Many a defensive back has been asked to step into a linebacking role in the CFL and Carter would have no qualms about it if that’s where he might one day be needed. “I wouldn’t hesitate,” he said.
For now, the 25-year-old native of Toledo, Ohio, continues to patrol the secondary. With his success on the corner, it might be wise for the Argos to leave him there and he has been practicing on the island this week.
If Carter moves back inside, he’ll be fine with that, giving you a glimpse into one of the reasons why the Argos’ brass likes him so much. “I’m just prepared for wherever they put me. Wherever I can help,” he says, when asked whether he prefers half or corner.
There are stark differences between the positions. With that contrast come reasons to love playing either of them, Carter explains.
“You have more responsibilities at halfback. Halfbacks often blitz and switch sides of the formation and have to (at times) switch men with either the nickel, the field half or maybe even the corner. So, you have to have a relationship with everybody on the field. Offences in this league, they do all kinds of crazy switches with receivers and you have to be on the same page, at halfback, with every other DB.
“At corner, if I’m switching responsibilities with someone, it’s just my boundary halfback. And that’s not very common. It only happens a couple of times a game.”
There’s a whole lot to get down, individually and as a unit. Carter – who is the last remaining defensive starter from that Grey Cup championship team – recalls arriving from Akron and just being tossed into the deep end as he went through his rookie season. Going from a ‘stop the run’ mentality, in college, to learning to cover charging receivers in the CFL? Not easy. And it has taken some time.
“I was over-training,” he recalls, looking back on 2012. “I was getting extra (reps) to make up for my lost time. Now I’m progressing pretty well and getting very comfortable covering. It’s actually one of my favourite things to do. I love to cover.”
You get the picture by now. Jalil Carter loves to cover. Loves to run stop. He just flat out loves to play football.
Relishing the physical contact of the inside game, he can also appreciate the relative calm of playing on an island, even if it does come with the isolation that can leave a defender highlighted – for the wrong reasons – on a big play.
“Whenever I get to go against a stationary guy, oh my goodness, it’s so relieving,” says Carter. “It’s not an easy job, by any means, but there’s a lot less movement (by the receiver) than at halfback, so, I’m way more comfortable.”
“Most of the time I have this one guy. And he’s not movin’. He’s not coming from the other side of the formation or anything like that. He’s standing right there.”
If the Argos choose to leave Carter out wide – which, based on his work there in the past and present suggests might be a good idea – could be that they went about forging a shutdown corner in the blast furnace that is learning to play halfback in the Canadian Football League.
Just allow him the odd foray back into that furnace, is all he asks.
“I’d love to corner blitz,” he says, slowly. This time, his voice came down an octave.
THE EXTRA POINT
In his final year at Akron, new coaches asked Carter to change from safety to receiver and he obliged.
That led to an invitation to try out at receiver with the St. Louis Rams. “I don’t know how,” Carter chuckled, adding that it was probably because of his speed. “I shouldn’t have switched in that last year. I don’t know if I’d say I regret it but it definitely made things a little tougher.”
Looking to line up at receiver for the Argos anytime soon?