For New Orleans Saints defensive back Chris Carr, football had not been fun since 2010.
He started 16 games for the Baltimore Ravens that year, recording a career-high total of 67 tackles, forcing three fumbles, breaking up eight passes and intercepting three passes on the way to an appearance in the AFC Divisional round. But the next two seasons were decidedly less enjoyable for Carr, who’s been in the NFL since the Oakland Raiders signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2005.
In 2011, he missed seven regular season games with hamstring and back injuries and was inactive for a playoff game. The Ravens released him.
Carr — who stayed in Oakland until 2007, played with the Tennessee Titans in 2008 and arrived in Baltimore in 2009 — subsequently went to training camp with the Minnesota Vikings but didn’t make the team. He spent nine games in 2012 with the San Diego Chargers, mostly returning punts, kickoffs and covering on special teams.
Then, his old defensive coordinator in Oakland, Rob Ryan, landed a job with the Saints and brought Carr with him to New Orleans, whose pass defense was ranked 31st in the NFL last year. And now, football is fun again, Carr said recently.
Carr explained that he’s enjoyed collaborating with first-year secondary coach Wesley McGriff and fellow cornerback Jabari Greer, a starter with the Saints since the 2009 Super Bowl season. He’s also comfortable in Ryan’s scheme.
“I’m in a system that I’m familiar with and that I like, and I’m with players that I know and I respect,” Carr said about joining the Saints. “Another motivating factor (is) getting back to the place where I was and ending my career on a good note.”
Carr indeed has been setting himself up for a chance to do just that. The first occasion this preseason where the Saints played football at something resembling game speed was the Black and Gold scrimmage on Aug. 3, and Carr captured the attention of more than 5,000 spectators by picking off a throw from third-team quarterback Ryan Griffin.
Carr later stepped in the way of a pass from second-team quarterback Luke McCown meant for Nick Toon, who was running a slant route. Carr popped the ball in the air and into the hands of a teammate, linebacker David Hawthorne.
At the end of the day, Carr and his potential to be a contributor for the Saints emerged as one of the most discussed topics among the team’s followers.
“I remember the first time that Chris came ... I just knew we were getting a quality player,” Greer told reporters after the scrimmage. “For him ... to have a day like he had, I’m happy for him.”
Coach Sean Payton added that he was not surprised Carr had impressed.
“He is a veteran player who has real good instincts,” Payton said.
On the other hand, in the Saints’ 17-13 win in Friday’s preseason opener at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Carr turned in a much more routine performance.
He had two tackles as the Kansas City offense was being led by third quarterback Tyler Bray and fourth-string quarterback Ricky Stanzi. He had one pass defense and another tackle on special teams.
As he has been throughout training camp, Carr fielded punts — two — one of which was a fair catch and the other which he returned for 4 yards.
Carr indicated the day before the game that he would be OK with having a quiet night against the Chiefs, however.
“Sometimes, if you’re a (defensive back), you can have a silent day, but you really had a good day,” Carr said. “I really just don’t want us to have any mental mistakes, any blown calls, and I feel if I do that, I’ll play well, like I usually do.”
Carr got what he wanted against the Chiefs, who debuted new quarterback Alex Smith and new head coach Andy Reid after a 2-14 season in 2012. The Saints pass defense did not surrender any plays that went for longer than 18 yards or any touchdowns — the Chiefs’ longest plays came on a 55-yard punt return and a 79-yard kickoff return.
Because Greer and free agent acquisition Keenan Lewis are projected to start at cornerback for New Orleans, and cornerbacks Patrick Robinson and Corey White respectively started 16 and four games for the Saints last year, Carr understands his prospects of making the team at age 30 depend on his ability to play nickelback and chip in on special teams.
It doesn’t daunt him.
“As you get up in years, you need to have some versatility in this league,” Carr said. “I’m going to have to go out there on special teams, whether it’s kicking (coverage) or whether it’s returns, and do well and show them that I’m capable of doing that skill. That’s just as important as my secondary play.”
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