BEREA — Tank Carder picks a new hobby every offseason to occupy the downtime between the end of the season and the start of the offseason program. One year it was yo-yo tricks, another artistic wood staining. This year it was remote control cars.
He bought five electric cars, and a boat, and would get them going 85-90 mph outside his house in Fort Worth, Texas.
“I bought one and fell in love with it. And my son liked it and was playing with it,” Carder told The Chronicle-Telegram on Wednesday. “But it’s just a money pit, really. You’re literally crashing it like every day, breaking stuff.”
Carder’s infatuation with the cars is over. He’s got something much more important to keep his attention and keep him busy — keeping the starting middle linebacker job.
“Oh, man, that’d be an honor,” he said. “I’m working my (butt) off and doing everything I need to do to help this football team win, and right now they’re expecting me to be the middle of the defense, and I’m going to do everything I can to live up to their expectations.
“I’ve never been in this role, so I’m still working my butt off, I’m still learning lots of things.”
Carder was a fifth-round pick of the Bills out of TCU in 2012, waived before the season and claimed by the Browns. His tenure is fourth-longest on the roster behind Joe Thomas, Joe Haden and John Greco, but he’s only started two games — one each in his first two years.
Carder was moved onto the first-team defense when Demario Davis was traded to the Jets in June. He suddenly was no longer just a special teams captain and defensive backup.
“I needed to push myself more than I felt like I needed to,” Carder said. “I just needed to really step up my game and be the middle of the defense that they want me to be.”
Linebackers coach Blake Williams kept Carder with the starters over the break and through the first week of training camp. Joe Schobert is applying pressure, but Williams said Carder is doing everything necessary to hold down the job.
He knows how much that means to Carder.
“He’s candid about it,” Williams said. “We all want to be at the top of our profession. We all want to play. He, like all the rest of these guys, had been starters and the man their entire life and all of a sudden they get to the NFL. You gravitate through the ranks, and all of a sudden you get your shot, so it’s very important to him and he takes it very personally.”
Carder is sandwiched between Jamie Collins and Christian Kirksey on the field but not in salary structure. During the offseason Collins signed a four-year, $50 million contract and Kirksey a four-year, $38 million deal. Carder signed for two years and $2.5 million before last season.
“I’m excited to see Tank finally get the opportunity to go out there and be that linebacker that I know he can be,” said Kirksey, who’s in his fourth season and pointed out that Carder has been a backup behind good players in D’Qwell Jackson, Karlos Dansby and Craig Robertson. “We all know Tank Carder when he was in college he was the Rose Bowl MVP, so he has all the talent in the world to go out there and make plays. I have full belief in Tank that he’s going to get the job done.”
Carder appreciated being called a special teams ace but said his whole career he just wanted an opportunity to show what he can do. At the same time, he said being a backup never bothered him.
“I’ll tell you right now, I’m not a guy that’s going to whine about playing time or position or anything. It’s just not me,” he said. “I’m going to keep my head down and if you ask me to do something, I’m going to do it, whatever it is, regardless. And it’s not even in me to go and tell them I want more playing time, because that’s just not the way I was raised. I was raised to do what you’re told, get the job done, whatever they tell you to do, do it.”
Carder has played middle linebacker in several different systems, so he feels comfortable. And he loves the responsibility.
“There are a lot of plays you can make,” he said. “It’s a little different than what it used to be, making all the calls and making all the checks. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a challenge.”
The biggest change for Carder is in preparation. He now feels the need to watch way more film and “know everything that’s going on.”
“There’s a lot more expectations,” he said. “You’ve got to prepare yourself differently. It ain’t where you study enough to get you by, you’ve got to study everything and consistently and constantly.”