DeAndre Carter predicts exciting things on Chargers kick returns

Chargers fans didn’t see a Justin Herbert, Derwin James, or Khalil Mack in the preseason.

Also no Keenan Allen, Austin Ekeler or Joey Bosa.

You’ve seen DeAndre Carter. But they have Yes, really see DeAndre Carter?

Carter, signed as the team’s kick returner, played 45 preseason snaps, all on offense.

The Chargers had 10 returns — six kickoffs and four punts — in their three preseason games. None of the players who made the return made it into the original 53-man roster.

So Sunday’s game against Las Vegas will be the first time Chargers fans will see the real, complete DeAndre Carter.

“Definitely excited,” Carter said last week. “I’m just excited to see how our unit – our special teams unit – will come together. I think we will be exciting again this year.”

Special teams have been an issue for the Chargers of late, a fact underscored by last season’s turnover.

Coach Brandon Staley hired a new coordinator in Ryan Ficken and a new assistant in Chris Gould. The Chargers signed a new punter in JK Scott and a long snapper in Josh Harris.

They re-signed kicker Dustin Hopkins after he made 18 of 20 field goal attempts and 30 of 32 extra point attempts for them in 11 games last season.

And the Chargers added Carter, who is entering his fifth season but still has the hunger of a survivor. Carter arrived from Sacramento State in 2015 and spent three years with four teams before making his NFL debut with Philadelphia in 2018.

At one point, he was out of the league for so long that he took a job as a substitute teacher at a Northern California middle school.

Chargers kick returner DeAndre Carter stands on the sidelines during a preseason game.

Chargers kick returner DeAndre Carter stands on the sidelines during a preseason game against the Rams at SoFi Stadium last month.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

“A great experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world,” Carter, 29, said after signing. “It teaches you to appreciate the opportunity you have and make sure you take advantage of whatever opportunities you have and just be grateful.”

A year ago, the Chargers had the worst punt return average — 5.9 yards — in the NFL. Chicago’s Jakeem Grant had a 97-yard punt return. The Chargers had a total of 107 yards in 18 returns.

Carter has career return averages of 9.2 yards on punts and 23.3 yards on kickoffs. His only return for a touchdown was a kickoff last season for Washington.

Expected to be standing tall in 2022, this player, who at 5ft 8 is the shortest of any Chargers, a full foot shorter than Donald Parham Jr.

Given his size and assignment, Carter conceded after joining the Chargers that the kick return requires a certain — perhaps slightly wacky — mentality.

“You’re looking straight up at the sky and people are running towards you at full speed and you can’t necessarily see everything,” he said. “It definitely takes a different mindset to be back there. Everyone can’t.

“…I think it’s about making a game, not about not screwing up. Try to put something exciting into a unit, know you have other skills. It’s explosive, fun.”

A reminder of the Chargers’ kicking game problems and instability — as of November 2020, six coaches have overseen special teams — came in the second week of preseason.

Dallas’ KaVontae Turpin returned a kickoff 98 yards and a punt 86 yards for touchdowns. In 2021, the Chargers ranked third-worst in defending punt returns in the NFL.

With Carter, they are expected to have the ability to produce their own special team’s power. His kickoff return for a touchdown last season was 101 yards.

“When you make a big play, even if it’s not a touchdown … there’s a lot of momentum in the game that flips,” Carter said. “Offense can thrive on that, and defense can thrive on that. If you have a good special teams unit, it will definitely go a long way in helping your team succeed.”

Given their recent performances in the kicking game, the Chargers would welcome some success in 2022. Just avoiding failure would also be a step forward. DeAndre Carter predicts exciting things on Chargers kick returns

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