1-2 punch Two-way trend: In what may be a sign of things to come, two of the league's best cornerbacks, Deion Sanders and Dale Carter, are stepping in and stepping up as wide receivers.

September 20, 1996

If this is the dawning of a new era in the NFL -- an era that invokes flashbacks of the league's distant past -- we have Deion Sanders to thank, along with the physical ravages of the game.

When Dale Carter latched onto a 46-yard touchdown pass from Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Steve Bono last Sunday, it signaled a whole new way of looking at things.

Suddenly, defensive backs can line up at wide receiver, run a fly pattern or two, and influence the outcome of a game.

But not just any defensive backs.

We're talking about perhaps the NFL's two finest cover men in Sanders, the Dallas Cowboys' ostentatious cornerback, and Carter, the Chiefs' less showy, two-time Pro Bowl corner.

They are, at the moment, brothers in two-way terror.

They share the common theme of being standout defensive players who double on the other side of the ball as wide receivers. Each came to his role out of dire circumstances.

Sanders, who has dabbled at receiver in the past, became the league's first two-way starter in 36 years after teammate Michael Irvin was dealt a five-game suspension to open the season.

Carter got the call last week after the Chiefs' receiving corps was decimated by injury.

In an age of salary cap economics and diluted rosters, they are not the last of their kind, but forerunners of a new breed of athlete, says Al Saunders, the Chiefs' assistant head coach.

"I think the day of free agency and salary cap has necessitated players with multiple abilities to play varying positions because the players at the lower end [of the roster] are not as strong as they once were," Saunders said.

"Kordell Stewart [the Pittsburgh Steelers' multidimensional offensive threat] is a great example of that.

"One of the hallmarks of being a coach is to use the talent you have to the best advantage."

After six seasons of major-league baseball, Sanders' versatility was not lost on the Cowboys. Indeed, when they decided to make him a full-time, two-way player last summer, it seemed merely an extension of a concept that already had germinated.

He caught passes in five of his seven NFL seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers and Cowboys (only the 49ers did not get the ball to Sanders on offense).

Still, it represented a breakthrough event when Sanders was on the field for 108 snaps in the Cowboys' season opener against Chicago. Running short hitches against the Bears' soft coverage, Sanders had nine receptions for 87 yards. On defense, he made three solo tackles, defended a pass and forced a fumble.

He followed that up by playing 60 snaps in a rout of the New York Giants and 94 more in last week's loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

Sanders leads the Cowboys with 14 receptions for 152 yards and one touchdown. On defense, he has yet to intercept a pass this season, but scored a touchdown on a 22-yard fumble return last week. It was his 15th career touchdown.

"I think Deion is extraordinary, somebody playing that amount of time," Saunders said. "[But] I think spot playing for [two-way] players is something we may see more of."

Emergency service is what the Chiefs had in mind for Carter last week when their offense took on the look of an infirmary. In a Week 2 victory over the Oakland Raiders, Kansas City lost wide receivers Tamarick Vanover (cracked ribs), Lake Dawson (sprained wrist) and Danan Hughes (jammed hand), Dawson and Hughes on the same play.

Vanover is the Chiefs' speed receiver at flanker, and the other flanker, Victor Bailey, had missed most of training camp with a knee injury.

When coach Marty Schottenheimer inserted Carter, with 4.4-second speed in the 40-yard dash, into the position at practice last week, the results were titillating.

"The ability he has to escape bump-and-run coverage was perhaps the singular thing that was most evident in practice," Schottenheimer said.

As receivers coach, Saunders appreciated Carter's elusive skills as much as anyone.

"Our team plays a lot of bump-and-run," Saunders said. "The first time he lined up, the defender was on the line of scrimmage and Dale escaped him and was 10 yards up the field. The defense just howled. His ability to get off a jam is just phenomenal."

The Chiefs wasted little time cashing in on the phenomenon last Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. On the team's third offensive series, Carter beat defenders Selwyn Jones and Robert Blackmon on a deep fly pattern down the left sideline. He caught Bono's pass chest-high at the 10 and strutted into the end zone. That gave the Chiefs a 14-0 lead en route to a 35-17 victory.

Carter was on offense for only six plays, but came away with three catches worth 61 yards. He went 63 defensive snaps (with six tackles) and six more on special teams to run his total to 75 for the game.

Players on both teams were impressed.

"He's as good as any receiver they have," said Seattle cornerback Corey Harris.

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