Veteran cornerback Carr, undrafted Sweeting chasing roster spots
Nine-year pro Chris Carr is trying to prolong his NFL career. Undrafted rookie Rod Sweeting is trying to kickstart his.
If the Saints keep five cornerbacks, the decision in one of their closest competitions for a 53-man roster spot could hinge on whether the coaches prefer reliable production or raw potential.
Competing with second-year Saint Corey White for spots behind Jabari Greer, Keenan Lewis and Patrick Robinson, Carr (5-foot-10, 182) and Sweeting (6-0, 187) know their margin for error is small in Sunday’s preseason game at Houston and Thursday’s exhibition finale at Miami.
“If you want to make any team, you have to be consistent,” said Carr, who signed in June after unsuccessful stints with Minnesota and San Diego in 2012. “They want players they can trust. I feel like if I’m on my keys and I’m relaxed and comfortable with the defense, I’ll play well.”
Sweeting is brasher, still smarting at not being drafted after being projected as a late-round pick out of Georgia Tech.
“It was just a bigger chip on my shoulder to go out and grind harder and make a team,” he said. “I’m a good man-to-man corner. I have good speed. I’m smart. I can match up with a lot of good receivers.”
Neither one of them has shown up like roster wannabe Glenn Foster (three sacks, one forced fumble) in the first two preseason games. Sweeting made two tackles at cornerback and two more on special teams in the opener against Kansas City before getting blanked in a second-half appearance against Oakland. He said he had a shot at an interception of a Terrelle Pryor throwaway in the back of the end zone but misjudged it.
Carr had two tackles, a deflection and a special teams stop against the Chiefs and did not play against the Raiders.
“We know what Chris Carr is,” Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. “He’s an excellent veteran. He’s doing all the things right, and then Sweeting is a young kid that’s come in and is doing some really good things. He’s a good young player.
“Whether they are battling each other or not, everybody’s evaluated, and we’re going to keep the right 53.”
Not much went right for Carr after he signed a four-year, nonguaranteed contract with Baltimore in 2011. He was coming off his best year, having started all 16 games for the Ravens in 2010 — his first and only season with more than four starts — and posting career highs in tackles (67), forced fumbles (three) and passes defensed (eight).
But he pulled a hamstring muscle in the preseason, tweaked it again after returning too soon and then had a back problem that limited him to nine games.
He lost his starting job and was cut in the offseason because the Ravens could not afford to keep a high-paid backup. He signed with Minnesota, before getting cut again in August, landing in San Diego in October but playing sparingly.
The Saints reunited him with Ryan, who was the defensive coordinator in Oakland when he played there primarily as a backup from 2005-2007.
“This league is what have you done for me lately,” said Carr. “I still feel just as fast and quick (as in 2010). My football I.Q. is very high. If I didn’t feel like I still had it, I wouldn’t play. Financially, I’m OK. I just want to end my career right.”
Sweeting’s is just beginning. A two-year starter for Georgia Tech and honorable mention All-ACC pick in 2011, he struggled at the Saints’ rookie camp but proved a quick learner at training camp.
“I like his game,” said Greer, a 10-year veteran who began his career as an undrafted free agent in Buffalo. “I remember when that was me 10 years ago, so I try to teach him the things that the older veterans taught me: how to be a professional, how to practice and what to look at. I’m encouraged by his tenacity. I’m encouraged by his confidence. He’s had a great camp.”
Payton said Friday that Carr would get a significant number of snaps in the second half against Houston. He was less specific about Sweeting, who is eligible for the practice roster if he does not make the final roster.
One of Sweeting’s advantages is special teams, a key factor for guys on the bubble. He played on the kickoff and punt return teams, the punt coverage team and the field goal rush team in the first two preseason games.
“If I make this team, special teams are going to be big for me,” he said. “I just have to go out there and keep getting better and keep showing that I belong in this league.”