NAPA – TJ Carrie was the 219th overall pick in last year’s NFL draft, meaning he’d have to prove his mettle. Seventh-round picks aren’t guaranteed a roster spot.
The Concord De La Salle High grad impressed the Raiders early on, improved his stature throughout offseason program and training camp. By the regular season opener, Carrie was a major contributor.
He played 80 percent of Week 1’s snaps against the New York Jets, playing primarily in the nickel package. Carrie recovered a fumble allowed just two receptions for 31 yards in his professional debut, proving the game wasn’t too big for him.
Carrie played 568 snaps over 12 games, had 44 tackles, an interception and held just 9.7 yards per reception. His play inspired such confidence that the Raiders didn’t seek an experienced cornerback to start above him.
Carrie checked in to his second Raiders training camp at the Napa Valley Marriott on Thursday afternoon in a far different place than a year ago. Last year, he was fighting for a role. This time around, he’s an incumbent starter.
Carrie knows the stakes are higher.
“The mentality definitely changes,” Carrie said Thursday. “When you are looked at as a starter, the mistakes and errors have to be limited to pretty much none. So last year as a rookie, they’re willing to give you those mistakes and opportunities to fail because you’re learning, you’re getting acclimated to the NFL, to the season and the different aspects of what you have to do.
“Coming into the next year and you’re projected to be a starter, they expect more of a higher level from you as an athlete. The pressure is definitely building higher. That’s something that we live to play this game for, is to be in the pressure. All pressure is good pressure.”
The pressure is on because a young cornerback corps doesn’t have a safety net. The Raiders didn’t sign a veteran starting option, choosing instead to rely on Carrie, DJ Hayden and Keith McGill to smother receivers in the secondary.
McGill and Hayden might duke it out for one spot in the base defense, but it seems like Carrie will be left alone. All three will play heavy snaps, considering how often a defense operates in sub packages. Carrie will likely slide into the slot in those situations, but the young corners are expected to play consistently well despite a relative lack of experience.
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“A lot has been asked from all of us as individuals to perform at a high level coming into (this season),” Carrie said. “The coaches have put a lot of trust into us as far as the prior draft classes and things, so the expectation is high for each and every one of us. I’m glad we’ve been able to put in some work as a team and as a unit in OTAs and mini-camp. Today we’ll be able to hash out some more things and be able to become more one as a team.”
While Carrie figures heavily into the Raiders’ defensive plans, his special teams role is up in the air. He returned kickoffs and punts frequently last season, and is probably among the best at those duties on the roster. Whether the Raiders want to put such heavy demands remains in question. Carrie says he expects to be in the mix in the return game.
“I’m definitely still back there catching punts, kickoffs, catching kickoff returns, things like that,” Carrie said. “(Special teams coordinator Brad Seely) knows what he’s doing, so he’ll definitely try to put all of us in the best situation to go out there and use our expertise on the field. I have tremendous trust in him, and I’m looking forward to what he has planned.”