Bruce Carter, signed to be the Bucs' middle linebacker this spring, will finally get that chance, taking over a key position in the middle of Tampa Bay's defense for suspended rookie Kwon Alexander.
"Very excited," said Carter, who lost the starting job in preseason and has seen limited action as the backup strongside linebacker this year. "It's an opportunity. You've got to be prepared, got to be ready. Coach Lovie (Smith), the whole defense, the entire coaching staff, they expect me to go in there and make plays. They don't want any dropoff from when Kwon was in there. That's what I expect to do."
Carter, 27, who missed last week's game with a concussion, has played on only 12 percent of the Bucs' defensive snaps, but he'll be in a major role Sunday against the Saints, counted on to relay defensive calls and have the defense in proper position, in addition to making plays himself.
"I'm a vet. I've been around for a while," said Carter, who led all NFL linebackers last season with five interceptions with the Cowboys. "I know what's expected of me and I'm going to go in and do it."
Weakside linebacker Lavonte David, who returned to practice Friday after being held out with an ankle injury Thursday, said he feels fine and will play Sunday. He wants to find the same chemistry with Carter that he's had with Alexander, who will miss the next four games serving a suspension for violating the league's policies on performance-enhancing substances.
"When you get used to a guy like Kwon, with his attitude, his mentality when he's out there on the field, it's going to be difficult to adjust to somebody else," David said. "I have all the trust and faith in the world in Bruce. He's a veteran guy. He knows what he's doing. I really don't think there's going to be any dropoff. The main thing we really have to work on is our communication, just talking to each other to make the game easy for both of us."
Coach Lovie Smith said Carter has had the right attitude even while playing in a smaller role -- he leads the team with nine special-teams tackles -- and he's optimistic he'll handle the starting role well Sunday and beyond.
"I feel very good," Smith said. "A good player isn't playing for us (for) a while, but you do have to move on. We didn't have a great defensive lineman last week in Gerald McCoy and the guys stepped up. Bruce Carter is a good football player. We brought him here to play football for us. Normally, if you keep doing things the right way, you get an opportunity. He's getting his opportunity, he's had a good week of practice and we're excited about what he's going to do."
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In choosing Carter for the middle, the Bucs can keep Danny Lansanah as their strongside linebacker -- he's played more than twice as many snaps as Carter as they shared that role. The Bucs used their three-linebacker base defense on 42 percent of the snaps in the first meeting with New Orleans in September, so both linebackers will be on the field and busy in Sunday's game.