When TJ Carrie entered the NFL draft, he was seen primarily as a return man. He was first team All-MAC as a return man and third team as a corner. So, it's understandable return specialist was where he was recognized the most while his cornerback abilities were secondary (so to speak). But that's not how it was supposed to be.
He came to Ohio University as a cornerback and it was there where his coach got him into adding return specialist to his repertoire.
"I definitely tried to harp myself on trying to play the cornerback position," said Carrie. "And I think the beauty of the college experience is you get coaches who like to push you in a direction that you might not have thought you could go. And that's what my head coach did, he pushed me into being a return man and I had a chance to excel at that as well. It kind of overshadowed my cornerback abilities. So, I definitely have the return abilities but I think that has overshadowed my cornerback abilities as well. I try to do both."
It was a smart move because as a cornerback, he may not have been seen as an NFL talent. He was a seventh round pick by the Raiders and Dennis Allen made it clear that Carrie was drafted to return punts - a position the Raiders have a glaring need. What he seems to have stumbled upon is a proverbial diamond in the rough as a cornerback.
Since the moment Carrie stepped onto the field for the Raiders, he has been making a positive impression on Dennis Allen. During minicamp in June, Allen had some very positive things to say about him, saying at the time that "every day there's been something that he's done that you say ‘Damn, that was a pretty good play'."
His feeling about Carrie has not cooled since then, and after three days of training camp. If anything, he is even more impressed, if only because Carrie has not come back to earth like one would expect a rookie seventh round pick to do at such an early stage.
"To be honest with you, I relate it back to a kid that we had when I was in Denver: Chris Harris," Allen said of Carrie following the third day of training camp. "He was an undrafted free agent, nobody really knew anything about him, and then every day you go out there and you watch him practice and every day he's making a play that kind of catches your eye. At first, you don't really think a whole lot of it until Day Three, Day Four, Day Five, Day Six, and he continues to make plays. That's really how TJ was. We drafted him in the seventh round. We thought he had some talent. We thought he had some ability, but I think he's more mature than maybe I would have known from a rookie DB coming in from Ohio. He's got a better understanding of what we're asking him to do and what the offense is trying to do to him. I think just instinctively, I've been very impressed with his knowledge of the game."
With the foot injury to DJ Hayden, the door was opened for Carrie to get some notice and he took the opportunity and made the most of it. After talking him up in minicamp, once training camp rolled around, it was Carrie and fourth year corner, Chimdi Chekwa who were the nickel corners getting the reps.
It says a lot when the seventh round rookie corner is getting reps and earning such high praise ahead of fourth round rookie Keith McGill and returning players like Chance Casey, Taiwan Jones, and Neiko Thorpe. It's a downright meteoric rise.
Part of the maturity Allen spoke of with regard to Carrie has been his openness to soak in the advice of several of the Raiders veterans. A couple of them - Taiwan Jones and Maurice Jones-Drew -- he knew well before he came to the Raiders from growing up in Antioch and attending De LaSalle. It's a luxury most rookies don't have.
"Knowing a couple of vet players coming in already, it was easier for the transition to come on to me personally," said Carrie. "I can't speak for every other rookie but knowing them and getting adjusted to them, they showed me a little bit of the ropes early on in OTA's and in the off-season so I got to adjust to the system a lot quicker than normally would be expected from a rookie. Which is something that I like. Now I'm more comfortable around the vets."
Aside from Jones and Jones-Drew, he also has the resource of Charles Woodson which many of the young members of this secondary have tapped.
"Every day it's a different question trying to get different notes, trying to get a different perspective of the game, because when you're talking about a vet who's played the game that long, he sees the game in a different light than coming in as a rookie or a fifth year guy, sixth year guy. He's been in the game so long that he sees the unnatural, the unmoral that we might not see. Definitely try to pick his brain and get a lot of information that I might not pick up until my third or fourth year. So, being able to have him there, I can pick things up a lot faster."
It's one thing to have resources like Woodson and the other vets. It's quite another to use those resources and institute the instruction and advice they provide. Carrie has a special ability to do that and it has shown up on the practice field.
Oh, and he is still considered the frontrunner as the team's punt returner. You know, that position he didn't originally play in college but merely decided to play from the advice of a former coach? Another wise decision on his part. The first of many it would seem.