FOXBOROUGH — Andre Carter spent more time with the 49ers and Redskins than he did with the Patriots, but sitting at home in California recently, pondering his football future, he said his choices were clear: He’d either retire from the NFL or play for the Patriots.
Fortunately for Carter, the Patriots came calling this week. He jumped on a red-eye flight, signed a contract, and was on the field for Wednesday’s practice. The veteran defensive end could hardly contain his smile when he met with the media after the workout.
“It’s great,” said Carter, 34. “Me and my wife were talking, and this place holds a special meaning, not just as far as what I did, but the camaraderie that I had here in 2011: the town of Foxborough, the state.
“It was very memorable, and I’m just blessed to be back.”
Carter spent the 2011 season with the Patriots, playing in 14 games before suffering a quadriceps injury that kept him from participating in the playoff run, including the Super Bowl. He had 10 sacks and was named to the Pro Bowl.
The Patriots have lost key defensive players for the season in Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, and had brought in Carter for a workout in early September. He didn’t re-sign with the Patriots after his solid 2011 season, opting instead for Oakland, where he played 12 games and had 2½ sacks. He was gone, but wasn’t a stranger.
“I still kept in contact with Mayo, Wilfork, and a lot of my teammates, and just told them they’ll continue to be brothers,” Carter said. “The game moves on, but the Patriots are always going to be in my heart, no matter what.”
Carter won’t have Mayo or Wilfork on the field with him now, but he said he’s been watching Patriots games, and has an idea of what kind of defense he’ll be joining.
“Young,” he said. “The defense is a lot different compared to when I was here in 2011. We’re young. Very talented group of guys, I’m sure they’re trying to find their niche and their place, just like any young team.”
The team might be young, but the veterans who were here two years ago are happy to see Carter back.
“That’s great,” said guard Logan Mankins. “For the guys that were around with Andre before, he’s a good teammate, he works hard at practice. I guess he’s healthy, so he’s going to help us a lot.
“He’s a hard-working guy, he listens to the coaches, he knows what to do when he’s on the field. He can only help us.”
In what capacity remains to be seen. Carter has 78½ sacks in an NFL career that began in 2001, but he hasn’t played in a regular-season game since Dec. 30, 2012. Still, with his experience and his familiarity with the Patriots, Carter got the call he’d been waiting for.
“We have a lot of respect for Andre," said coach Bill Belichick. “He’s a hard-working guy that’s given us great leadership in the past and is a good teammate. Everybody loves Andre. In the end, it still comes down to performance on the field, so we’ll see.”
Carter said he’s not sure how much he’ll play or what role he’ll assume. He is happy to be back, pleased with how he feels physically, and looking forward to what’s to come.
“I felt good today, didn’t feel too winded, and I’ll continue to move forward,” he said. “[Playing time] will be contingent on how the coaches feel.
“I’m constantly learning the scheme, having an understanding of how everyone fits. I’m trying to stay on top of my game, my craft, as well as my technique and execution.”
Series of predictions
With the World Series starting Wednesday night at Fenway Park between the Red Sox and Cardinals, there was no shortage of predictions among their football peers.
“Red Sox in five,” Tom Brady said. “We’ll give them one.”
Defensive end Rob Ninkovich has the kind of beard that would fit in with the Red Sox, and said he played third base and center field in high school, because “I could cover ground.”
Ninkovich also predicted a Red Sox title.
“But it’s not going to be easy,” he said. “I think it’s going to go six.”
Quarterback Ryan Mallett is slightly torn. He works in the Boston area and counts Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks among his close friends. But Mallett is from Texarkana, Texas, the same town as Middlebrooks — but also Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha.
“I can’t call it,” said Mallett. “I can’t pick a favorite. Obviously, I live here, but I got guys I know on both teams. I like the Sox to win. I’m a Sox fan.”
Even Dolphins coach Joe Philbin got into the act. Philbin is a Springfield native and went to Worcester Academy.
His Dolphins staff is loaded with coaches who have Massachusetts ties, so Philbin was asked if they’ll be rooting for the Red Sox.
“I can’t speak for everybody,” Philbin said in his conference call, “but I can tell you one guy who is — the guy on the phone.”
Vereen not ready
Running back Shane Vereen was eligible to practice Wednesday for the first time since breaking a bone in his wrist during the season-opening win at Buffalo and being placed on the injured list with a designation to return.
Vereen, who has been spotted working out on an adjacent field during practices, can’t play in a game until Nov. 18 at Carolina.
But he can practice whenever he’s ready.
That day is still to come, because Vereen didn’t practice Wednesday.
“He’s obviously rehabbing with the trainers and can do some running, but his involvement with the team, I’d say, this particular time, isn’t there yet,” said Belichick.
“I don’t think that’s too far off — whether that’s today or tomorrow or next week, whenever it is. He’s really in the day-to-day category.”
Belichick said there was no change in the status of defensive lineman Armond Armstead and receiver Mark Harrison, both of whom are on the reserve list/non-football-injury but are eligible to resume practicing.
Knowing their limits
Receiver Danny Amendola (concussion), cornerback Aqib Talib (hip), and receiver Julian Edelman (thigh) were among the Patriots who were limited in Wednesday’s practice. Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly (knee) and running back Leon Washington (ankle) were the only players who missed the full-pads workout . . . Starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill (shoulder) was on the Dolphins’ injury report under limited participation . . . The Patriots are one win behind Oakland for the most victories by original AFL teams. The Raiders (432-367-11) host Pittsburgh Sunday; the Patriots are 431-371-9.