New and Improved Raiders CB TJ Carrie on Prowl for Starting Spot

NAPA – Derek Carr quickly found his intended receiver, with just enough space to sneak a completion through. Or so he thought.

TJ Carrie read the play just right, jumped the route and intercepted Carr at full speed. He continued down the sideline for what would've been a pick six in practice or a game.

"TJ made a great jump," Carr said. "He read the play and he jumped it."

Carrie ended Wednesday's practice with that bang, marking the best play of a quality training camp. The Concord De La Salle High grad has earned first-unit reps over veteran Sean Smith the last week, and has fared well playing against top receivers.

The fact he made the play shows Carrie is making strides, and that the Raiders secondary as a whole is improving.

"He wouldn't have jumped that last year," Carr said. "They're recognizing things faster and that's why I just dropped back and threw it. They wouldn't recognize it that quick. They wouldn't be on top of their stuff. Sometimes we'd catch them slipping, miscommunicating and then we'd go. And that's not a fault, that's just them learning how to play together."

Carrie is growing as a player, and is hungry as ever entering the final year of his rookie contract. The 2014 seventh-round pick has shown improved ball skills in camp. He has covered with greater confidence and physicality, even against top receivers.

"That's something that I've tried to enhance every year," Carrie said. "Quarterbacks are putting the ball in tight spaces. Their reads are sharp, and you have to know how to put yourself in position to make be strong, physical and aggressive at the point of attack."

Carrie has fought for a starting spot before. He won one in 2015, when he started 14 games. He played some safety to band-aid an injury plague, but primarily played outside and in the slot. Sean Smith and David Amerson were starters last season with DJ Hayden in the slot.

Smith and Amerson were projected to retain their spots, with first-round draft pick Gareon Conley as the nickel corner. Two guys draw big paychecks. The third has high draft status.

Carrie didn't care. He trusted head coach Jack Del Rio's credo that you get what you earn, and that he doesn't care where you came from. Everyone competes on an equal plane.

"Coach Del Rio lays it on the line and tells everyone how it's going to be," Del Rio said. "You have the expectation that there's a chance. When you have that thought in your head, you want to work hard and study more because your labor could pay off at the end of the day. He gives everyone an open battle.

"That's what I mean about having to re-prove yourself. You never know the situation. Coach doesn't care where you got drafted or even if you did. If you're out there executing at the highest level, you're going to play."

That's playing out at Carrie's spot. The Raiders are tinkering with Smith's role, playing him at a hybrid linebacker/safety spot in sub packages. Even when he played outside, he was behind Carrie. It's uncertain how long that will last. It's uncertain where Conley will play once he's healthy enough to practice.

Carrie isn't focused on that. He just wants to put his best foot forward every day.

"Nothing is guaranteed in this league," Carrie said. "You have to re-prove, to re-show coaches that I'm the best corner, someone who should be playing against the No. 1s. You need the same energy and desire to show well as you did your first year. You have to work your butt off to be in the right position and make sure coaches get the best view of you."

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