Duron Carter was wearing camouflage apparel at B.C. Lions’ training camp on Monday, but maintaining general resemblance to background has never been his thing.
Nobody inside the Leos’ organization wants Carter to lose that pop, providing colourful personality doesn’t ambush team accord.
“The media, guys on social media, like to give him a bad rep,” Lions’ receiver Bryan Burnham said on Day 2 of main camp at Hillside Stadium.
“I don’t know where the locker room cancer talk came from because he’s been nothing but great. You keep tabs on it. You see what people say in the media, but when Duron got here, it’s a clean slate. I know he wants to come out here, compete, play football and win games. That’s all that matters.”
The Lions announced the signing of 28-year-old Carter — a 6-foot-5, 205-pound receiver from Fort Lauderdale and the son of NFL Hall of Fame wideout Cris Carter — to a one-year deal worth about $150,000 on Feb. 13, a day after he became a free agent.
Carter, who has enjoyed success on both offence and defence, is a proven game-changing talent, but questions about his effect on the locker room are warranted, given well-documented run-ins with former teammates, coaches and the law.
The Saskatchewan Roughriders sent him packing during their bye week last August, ending a tenure in which flashes of greatness were accompanied by marijuana-possession charges, inconsistent play, a tussle with a practice-roster teammate and spats with coaches.
“Everything gets blown out of proportion,” Carter, a CFL all-star in 2014 and 2017, told KTW. “You don’t need to be worried. You need to be worried about other teams. They [fans] need to stop reading into the news. I’m completely comfortable here.”
Carter finished the 2018 campaign with the Toronto Argonauts, catching 10 passes for 119 yards and one touchdown in eight games, underwhelming numbers that capped a disappointing fifth season in the league.
He hinted at retirement on Twitter in January, but a bond formed with Lions’ general manager Ed Hervey influenced his decision to keep playing, along with the chance to suit up with marquee free-agent signing pivot Mike Reilly.
“That’s a non-issue to me,” Reilly said when asked about Carter’s off-field baggage. “I judge him on who he is right now and the way he acts around our team. He’s a different personality, a bright personality, colourful, for sure. He’s right here, probably trying to jump into my interview, but that’s part of what makes football great is that we’re not all just robots out here. We’re human beings. I’ll never try to take that away from somebody, as long as it’s not a distraction to our team.”
The Lions are taking the same risk the Roughriders took in 2017, when Saskatchewan inked Carter after a similar Jekyll-And-Hyde stint in Montreal.
Carter’s highs in three seasons with the Alouettes included catching 185 passes for 2,877 yards and 17 touchdowns. Bumping into Ottawa head coach Rick Campbell during a game and engaging in a yelling match with teammate Rakeem Cato were among the lows.
In college, Carter was a projected first-round NFL draft pick in his true freshman year in 2009 at Ohio State, but was ruled academically ineligible to play prior to the 2010 campaign and joined Coffeyville Community College.
He enjoyed a solid season statistically, but when Carter was eligible fot the 2014 NFL Draft, Coffeyville quarterback Cayden Cochran tweeted the team that selects Carter will get a lazy whiner who has no work ethic.
Carter's college career sputtered with unsuccessful stops at Alabama, at which he reportedly failed multiple drug tests and fell out of favour with Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide, and Florida Atlantic, at which his petition to play was turned down.
What happened in college is of no concern to the Lions' star quarterback, who sees a weapon in the receiver who caught 73 balls for 1,043 yards and eight touchdowns in 18 games in 2017.
“He’s got a good support system here,” Reilly said. “He’s got veterans he can trust. He’s got a good coaching staff and great GM. That will help him. He hasn’t had that before.”
The camouflaged pass catcher showed guile, explosiveness and trustworthy mitts to the light spattering of fans in attendance at sunny Hillside Stadium on Victoria Day Monday.
Reilly sees the tools.
“He’s big. He’s physical. He’s strong. He’s got a tonne of athleticism. He’s smart, too,” Reilly said.
“You’re not having to correct him, remind him where to line up. He knows the offence. A lot of guys come into this system and it takes a while to learn, but Duron has a background during his time in Sask, with [offensive co-ordinator] Jarious [Jackson] and [receivers’ coach] Markus Howell. Now, it’s all about us getting on the same page as a unit.”
Keeping Carter on the same page will be pivotal to this receiving platoon’s attack, which won’t be sneaking up on anyone with No. 89 in its ranks.
“You know when he walks in the room, but it’s all positive stuff,” Reilly said.
Added Burnham: “When you get into the season, it can start to be a drag. Things get repetitive and boring. A personality like that is definitely needed in the locker room. I’m happy he’s here. He’s a fun guy. He’s a leader. He’s in a good situation right now.”