As Dale Carter prepares to resume a career that could have been finished at least three times before, the Ravens cornerback does so with one minor concern. Just how will, after all this time off, the lungs hold up?
Mercifully, Carter can relate that solely to whether he is in football shape and not a blood clot in that area that nearly cost him his life last year.
"I have to go out there and control myself," said Carter, who figures to play in his first game since the middle of the 2003 season when the Ravens play the Saints in New Orleans on Friday. "I haven't played in a while. I know my lungs are going to be hurting a little bit with [my getting tired]. You've just got to pace yourself."
That seems to be Carter's only concern as he returns to face the team he last played for. Carter, 35, isn't worried if he can still play. He doesn't anticipate any jitters. And he views returning to the starting lineup, likely his assignment in place of an injured Samari Rolle, nothing to sweat over.
Playing 12 years in the NFL, withstanding a life-threatening injury and overcoming drug suspensions that would have ruined a number of careers have endowed Carter with the confidence that he can handle anything.
"Me and [Deion Sanders] talk all the time," Carter said. "Everything now is extra. I'm having fun. After the experience I had from last year, everything is extra. I go out here happy every day and am having fun."
Carter missed the two previous preseason games with a thigh injury suffered in the scrimmage against the Washington Redskins, but he returned to practice this week and appears set to play 15-20 snaps.
With Rolle hurting, Carter's return could not have come at a better time for him and the Ravens.
Instead of testing himself against second- and third-stringers as he would have had Rolle been healthy, Carter will face one of the fastest tandems in the league in Saints receivers Joe Horn and Donte' Stallworth.
Horn and Stallworth combined for 16 touchdowns and more than 2,000 receiving yards last season (if Carter starts, he would match up primarily against the faster Stallworth).
If Carter can hold his own, the Ravens' plan of having he and Sanders handle the nickel back position playing 15-30 snaps a game would be on track.
"It's good news, bad news," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "The bad news is that it's unfortunate Samari can't get that next rep. The good news is the next guy, whether it's Dale or whoever else behind, gets a real good solid test for them. As long as it's preseason, you're OK with that."
Carter certainly is OK with it after he doubted whether he would play again while lying in a hospital bed in July 2004. Carter had signed with the Ravens a month earlier, when he looked to cap off a career that included the highest of highs (four straight Pro Bowl appearances) and the lowest of lows (two suspensions, including the entire 2000 season, and five violations of the league's substance-abuse policy).
The blood clot, though, superseded all.
"When I had that blood clot and was lying up in the hospital, I didn't know what was going to go on," Carter said. "Football was the farthest thing from my mind. Thinking back from there until now, it's amazing to me.
"Living was my No. 1 priority. I wasn't worried about anything else. I had a chance to sit back and think about all the things you take for granted. Like I said, all this is extra now."
Before Carter injured his thigh, he had been up and down during the team's minicamps. The speed was there, but the timing in making plays on the ball was a little off.
That is something that can be fixed with playing time.
"I'd bet he's one of the most impressive stories we have right now," Billick said. "It's been great to see Dale go through the transformation he's gone through."
Said safety Ed Reed: "It makes you appreciate the game even more and puts things in perspective for you. At the same time, it makes you more excited because you can feel the energy he brings."