Back In Action

Cornerback Carr Set To Make First Start Of Season

December 24, 2009|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,edward.lee@baltsun.com

After weeks of waiting patiently for his turn, Chris Carr's reward Sunday is his first start of the season, against the reigning Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who torched the Green Bay Packers for 503 passing yards and three touchdowns Sunday.

That suits the fifth-year cornerback just fine.

"I've been out there," Carr, 26, said Wednesday. "It's not like I've been on the bench the whole entire season and all of a sudden I'm right in there. I've been playing a lot of corner the last couple games. I've played against Ben when I was in Oakland, too."

Carr's playing time increased when Fabian Washington was lost for the remainder of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee after the Ravens' 17-15 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Nov. 22. Carr had usually been the fifth defensive back, lining up in the outside corner position while rookie Lardarius Webb slid inside in the defense's nickel packages.

Now, Carr replaces Webb, who tore the ACL in his right knee in Sunday's 31-7 thrashing of the Chicago Bears. And with the Ravens on the cusp of clinching a third playoff berth in four years against their AFC North archrivals, the pressure is on Carr to assist a secondary that has struggled against top-flight quarterbacks this season.

For his part, Carr isn't giving in to the hype.

"I feel like the more I'm out there, the more plays I'm going to make," he said.

"So I'm very confident in my capabilities. Hopefully, I'll continue to go out there and play well and make some plays and we get this victory."

The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Carr's ability to play cornerback, nickel back and even safety was one of the reasons the Ravens signed him away from the Tennessee Titans to a two-year, $5 million contract.

After a season in 2008 with the Titans during which he posted a career-best 33 tackles, made an interception and broke up seven passes in 16 games - which included two starts at cornerback - Carr was pursued by the Steelers, New England Patriots and Cleveland Browns.

But he chose the Ravens because of, in part, his desire to play for a traditionally strong defense and his connection to a pair of former Raiders compatriots in Washington and secondary coach Chuck Pagano.

Pagano sold Carr's versatility to the front office, saying: "He can go in and play corner, and it's not like you're just putting out another guy. He's a really good corner. He can play nickel, he can play dime, he can play nickel safety. He's done a ton of things. He's very, very smart and tough. He's a physical guy. He's not physical in stature, but he's strong enough and smart enough so that he understands the game. He's a step ahead that way."

Carr also spends a lot of time studying opposing offenses' tendencies. Teammate Domonique Foxworth said that when the secondary gathers Wednesday for the first time to study the coming opponent, Carr already has an idea of what the offense is planning.

"When we're in film study with Coach [Pagano], he's already watched it all and figured it out," Foxworth said. "He's the guy who's spouting out our responsibilities. It's nothing too complicated, but he always prepares from every position. He'll be able to tell you what's going on from corner and be able to tell you what's going on at safety and what's going on at nickel. He's a versatile guy, and I think it's because of his intelligence and his athleticism."

Validation from his coaches and teammates is gratifying to Carr, an undrafted rookie out of Boise State who was scooped up by Oakland. Yet Carr said he is not comfortable with thinking he has reached a comfort level in his career.

"I came into this league as a free agent, so I've always had to play that underdog role," he said.

"I was so used to having to completely earn everything that I've gotten. Whether it was cornerback or nickel back or returns, I've had to really prove myself because when you're not drafted high, people are not going to give you those chances. So coming here, there's really no extra pressure than I've ever had in my life because usually I'm always battling for stuff."

Carr's additional tasks as a starting cornerback figure to cut into his time returning kicks and punts Sunday, but he is holding out hope that he can still do both.

Coach John Harbaugh wouldn't say whether Carr would continue returning punts or pick up the kickoff-return duties that he ceded to Webb earlier in the season.

"We'll just have to see how that plays out," Harbaugh said. "He's still our primary guy, but we have some other options there."

Carr and the Ravens' secondary have the unenviable assignment of containing Roethlisberger and a dangerous receiving corps in Santonio Holmes, Hines Ward, rookie Mike Wallace and tight end Heath Miller.

When Pittsburgh brings in three receivers, Carr could slide inside much like Webb did, and Frank Walker could be inserted at the outside corner position.

Roethlisberger could target Carr early and often, but Carr said he welcomes such a tactic.

"Hopefully," Carr said of being tested by the Steelers.

"If you're a competitor, you want the ball to come your way so that you can make some plays on the ball. But you've just got to go out there and expect your guy to get the ball every single time and just go out there and relax and play."

RAVENS@ STEELERS

Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Ch. 13

Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM

Line: Steelers by 2 1/2

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