ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In the first playoff game of his career, rookie safety Quinton Carter knew he had a chance.
"We were in a perfect call," Carter said at the time. "We knew the tendencies and knew the area of the field they like to work."
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger dropped back on third-and-16 and immediately felt pressure from linebacker D.J. Williams.
Carter, who said he was in the "right place at the right time," watched and waited. Roethlisberger threw a pass under durress and Carter came away with his first career interception.
"Man, it felt wonderful," he said. "I finally got one."
It didn't take long for him to get his second, either. The very next week in New England, Carter picked off another Pro Bowl quarterback in Tom Brady.
It's those two postseason interceptions -- he became just the ninth rookie in the Super Bowl era to record interceptions in consecutive playoff games -- along with his 10 regular-season starts in 2011 that have Carter excited for what year two can bring.
"The confidence level is risen," Carter said. "Just game experience -- practice doesn't give you that."
Carter got his first start in Week 7 last season, going on to start all but one game the rest of the way.
In the process, he notched 49 tackles, a sack and seven special-teams stops. That's not to mention his 10 tackles, two passes defensed and two interceptions in the playoffs.
One of four Broncos rookies to play in all 16 regular-season games in 2011, the fourth-round pick said being able to watch so much tape of himself heading into his sophomore campaign has been a big benefit.
"I think it helps a lot, getting those butterflies out," Carter said of his experience as a rookie. "Plus the knowledge of the game -- being able to look back on your mistakes from last year and not make them this next year."
That's where OTAs are especially helpful.
Coming into his rookie campaign, Carter didn't have a normal NFL offseason due to the lockout. Being able to take part in practices prior to training camp is an advantage not lost on the safety.
"It's a huge mental edge, just knowing that we have a lot of time to learn the techniques of the defense, learn our assignment to a T instead of rushing into it," he said.
As for how practices have gone so far, Carter was a harsh critic. He said his expectations for himself are high, and he believes he has been playing "OK."
Veteran cornerback Champ Bailey begged to differ.
"You can see he's just a lot more comfortable and confident," he said. "You can tell he's got a year under his belt because his decision-making is a lot quicker than it was a year before."
That improvement is something Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio was happy to see from the young safety.
"He's having a good camp, working hard," Del Rio said. "He brings a little bit of that physicality that you'd like to have in your strong safety, a guy that can come down there and thump people in the box. So we definitely like that about him."
"I want to see everybody improve," he continued. "Certainly a guy that was able to play and get some experience as a rookie, we expect him to build on that and kind of grow from there. We're making the back end very competitive. With (safety) Mike Adams being here and (safety) Rahim (Moore) and 'Q,' those guys are battling right now. We're going to play the best guys."
Competition isn't something Carter is shying away from. Quite the opposite. In fact, Carter is excited to have another veteran in the secondary to learn from in Adams, not to mention the likes of Bailey, Drayton Florence and Tracy Porter at cornerback.
As Bailey put it, Carter is "taking advantage of his resources."
"I can't even explain it," Carter said of the benefits veterans provide to a young player. "It's learning what to look for with certain routes. It's communication. Just building up the mental speed of the game. Everybody's talented, it's just all about the mental speed, and they help you pick that part of the game up."
He added that practicing against a quarterback the caliber of Peyton Manning certainly doesn't hurt, either.
As for his expectations this season, they're simple.
"Make big plays and win a lot of games," Carter laughed. But he wasn't joking.
"Really, make a lot of plays out there, don't give anything up, don't be that guy on the team that lets your guy beat you -- win every play and win a lot of games," he expanded. "That's the expectation. Win down the stretch.
"Keep making strides to push for the trophy."