FOXBOROUGH - The Patriots had 14 rookies and three tryout players taking part in rookie minicamp over the weekend, but the team also asked a couple of players who saw little to no game action last season to participate.
Markell Carter, a sixth-round draft pick in 2011 out of Central Arkansas who looked like a project from Day 1, was one of those second-year guys.
But the defensive end embraced the chance to get in the extra time in his playbook and with the coaching staff. Thanks to the lockout last spring, he and the rest of the NFL’s rookies didn’t get the benefit of their own camps just after the draft, which helps lay the foundation for their pro careers.
“I’m getting a lot of work in that I wasn’t able to get last year, so this weekend my main focus has been getting better, just trying to grow in the defense and pick up on those things I missed last year,’’ he said.
“Last season at this point, I was at home hanging out with my family.’’
The 22-year-old Oklahoma native spent the season on the practice squad, but at some point other teams started sniffing around the 6-foot-4-inch defensive end, and the Patriots showed their commitment to Carter by boosting his pay to $350,000, or about what he would have made as a first-year player on the 53-man roster.
In turn, Carter is even more committed to improving.
“There was no bitterness that I wasn’t able to play,’’ he said. “Bill [Belichick] is a great coach. Whenever he says I’m ready, I’m ready. The pay raise let you know that they’re interested in you, and whenever your boss gives you a pay raise, you’re going to feel good about yourself.
“It was a little bit more motivation. For me it was like they wanted me here, but they gave me this pay raise just to show me how much they’ve invested in me, so I need to invest more into them as well.’’
Carter has put on 10 pounds since the end of the season, and about 25 since his last game with Central Arkansas. He’s up to 275 now, and said he hasn’t lost any of his speed and has gained explosiveness through all of his work in the weight room.
But there’s something else he’s gained: His younger sister, Keyarrie Hudson, has moved in with him. Hudson suffers from lupus, a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disorder that can affect the joints, kidneys, and other organs.
Even though she’ll be spending a few months with her brother in Massachusetts and then a couple of months back home in Oklahoma to take college courses, having Hudson here even part-time means that she can get better medical care. She is now seeing the third-ranked lupus specialist in the country, Carter said, and her kidney specialist is better than the one in Oklahoma as well.
“She’s doing well,’’ Carter said. “She’s really strong; she’s a lot stronger than what I am. Lupus probably would have been the end of me, but for her it’s just a new chapter and she took it on full force and she’s doing a lot better.’’
Hudson’s attitude toward her disease inspires her brother.
“Just to see her go through those struggles and to see her have a smile on her face every day, even though I know how much it was hurting her,’’ Carter said. “And how she stayed in her faith and she didn’t lose herself - a lot of people would have been depressed and they would have lost who they were, but she never lost that. She was that same girl before and after.’’Shalise Manza Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.