‘Just line me up': Ex-Florida Gators lineman Zach Carter buys into benefits of versatility

Hal Habib
Palm Beach Post
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Zachary Carter, Florida Gators defensive lineman, through the years

NFL teams are smart enough to know how the game is played this time of year. So much of what comes out of the mouths of draft prospects isn’t really the players’ words, but their agents’.

So teams were ready for what seemed like a stock response by Zach Carter, the former Florida Gator, when they would ask where he wanted to play in the NFL.

“I give them like the formal answer: ‘a football player, coach. Just line me up,’ ” Carter said.

Maybe that would have worked long ago. Not anymore.

“They’re like, ‘Don’t BS me. What do you want to play?’ ” Carter said.

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Gators defensive lineman Zach Carter sacks N'Kosi Perry of FAU in September.

Defensive line is the obvious answer, although there’s a school of thought that says Carter can slide along the line depending on down and distance.

"I feel like I'm a first and second down end, obviously,” Carter said. “And then move inside on pass rush situations. And I feel like me on a guard, you know, especially in pass rush situations, is a mismatch."

Carter is 6-feet-4 and 285 pounds, graded by NFL.com as likely to begin his pro career as a quality backup with potential to develop into a starter. In a dozen starts for the Gators last season, Carter justified the “Zach Attack” label for his big plays, recorded 11 tackles for loss and eight sacks, numbers in line with his 9.5 tackles for loss and five sacks in 2020.

Carter had to be sold on the various roles he filled at Florida before buying in to what position coach David Turner was telling him.

“At first I used to question my coach sometimes,” Carter said. “I was like, ‘Coach, let me focus on just one spot.’ And he was like, ‘It’s going to help you in the long run.’ ”

The 2022 season will enable Carter to cash in on that experience.

“At first I didn't understand but, you know, I felt like it prepared me to play so many positions,” Carter said. “So I feel like as I move on to the next level, I'll be able to fit in a lot of different schemes. So I feel like it helped."

Zach Carter meets with reporters at SEC Media Days before the 2021 season.

The strangest point on the journey? Easy.

“They made me line up at nose guard,” Carter said. “I was like, man. But you know, I got a sack lining up at nose guard. So I was like, ‘OK, maybe they see something I don't see.’ ”

Where Carter would line up on the field wasn’t the only uncertainty floating around in his head. Carter nearly sat out the 2020 season out of concerns caused by the pandemic — concerns that arose from first-hand experience.

Not only did Carter’s father have a tough time shaking COVID, but a longtime friend of his mother’s died of the virus just as practice was about to gear up in the summer of 2020.

“She was a true Gator fan who came to a lot of my games,” Carter told The Associated Press at the time. “Looking forward to balling out in honor of all COVID-19 fighters and victims.”

Carter also took the cautious approach at the end of his college career. He skipped the Gasparilla Bowl in December even though it was at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, close to where he grew up. He didn’t want to risk injury. So when NFL teams ask what kind of pro he envisions himself to be, Carter is ready.

“I'm motivated,” he said. “I feel like I'm real slept-on and underrated. So I mean, I tell all the coaches that I'm coming in with a chip on my shoulder. And I'm the most versatile defensive lineman in this draft. I sell that."

NFL Draft

April 28-30

Las Vegas

TV: ESPN, ABC, NFL Network

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