COSTA MESA – The Chargers' big-play weapon emerged throughout training camp and it wasn't one of the team's top receivers on the roster last season.
But rather, it was DeAndre Carter, who was brought to Los Angeles on a one-year deal after making noise last year in Washington as a kick and punt returner.
Carter, the journeyman, who’s served stops with four teams since 2018 before joining the Chargers, picked up in the season opener right where he left off in camp.
The Chargers lost Keenan Allen in the second quarter of the game as he exited with a hamstring injury. That left a notable blow to the receiving core mid-game, calling for other pass catchers to step in a seize their moment.
Ultimately, Carter did just that.
“To be able to play Josh Palmer at the F, X, or Z, or to have J.G. [Jalen Guyton] step in or DeAndre Carter, who can play pretty much any position, as well. You never want to lose a player like [Keenan Allen], but when you get guys around them that are able to step up like that, I think it’s huge for the team," quarterback Justin Herbert said of the receiving core who stepped up following Allen's injury.
Carter saw four targets, making three catches for 64 yards and one touchdown. On Carter's scoring grab, he split two defenders as he reached the goal line, hauling in Herbert's tight window throw. Carter's biggest play of the game came on a 30-yard crossing route when Herbert was flushed out of the pocket and completed the throw near the sideline.
“I think it’s one that we’ve practiced a couple of times," Herbert said of Carter's sideline grab. "The protection broke down, I kind of stepped up, found him, and I just knew that he was running to the sideline. He flattened [the route] versus man. He went up, got the ball, and made a big play for us.”
For a player who was viewed, at least initially, as a return specialist, Carter has brought an added dimension early on to the Chargers offense with his deep speed to stretch the field vertically and short area quickness when being deployed on underneath patterns.
While Carter has been a pleasant surprise to many, Chargers coach Brandon Staley said this is what he's seen from him since they first got out on the field during the Spring this offseason.
"It was really all three of our quarterbacks in the Springtime, having that instant chemistry with D.C [DeAndre Carter]. I think that we knew in the Springtime that he was going to be a lot more than just a return specialist," Staley said. "I think that [wide receivers coach] Chris Beatty has done a phenomenal job coaching him. He proved himself in a very short time in the Spring.
"Then, throughout training camp, as you guys were there, he made plays all throughout camp and was a really tough cover for us. I think you can deploy him in a lot of different ways, as I think you saw it yesterday. He’s just a really tough football player, instinctive football player. I think our quarterbacks really trust him.”
Herbert stated that he and Carter spent a lot of time together in training camp, creating chemistry. And in Week 1, Herbert and Carter looked dialed in, building upon the foundation they installed over the last couple months.
“We kind of knew right when he stepped in here how special he was," Herbert said of Carter. "He was able to play a lot more receiver than what is usual for a return specialist. He’s a special route runner, very smart, intelligent. That play, that touchdown that he caught, we’ve thrown that a couple of times in camp throughout OTAs. It was really good to see from him, but I’m not surprised by his success either.”
With Allen's status uncertain for the Week 2 Thursday Night Football matchup against the Chiefs, Carter could play a vital role in his absence yet again. Carter, Palmer and Guyton will look to fill the void if Allen's hamstring injury prevents him from suiting up on a short week.
"You just have to move the downs around," Staley said on how they would handle game planning without Allen if he's unable to play. "Who is playing what position? You just try to move it around a little bit, maybe activate a couple of more players than you would normally, where you’re featuring Keenan.
"Fortunately, we feel like we’ve built a receiving corps, for sure, that guys can move around, where you can put Josh Palmer in that spot, DeAndre Carter in that spot, Mike [Williams] can play some in the slot, so can Gerald [Everett], so can Austin [Ekeler], all of those guys. Everyone just has to do a little bit more, but we feel like we have a diverse enough cast where we can kind of share the load with that group.”
If Carter's performance in the season opener is any indication of what he's capable of as a third or fourth receiver, it's clear that he'll be utilized more than just his contributions on special teams.
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Nick Cothrel is the publisher of Charger Report. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickCothrel for more Chargers coverage.