EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. Intentional or not, the Minnesota Vikings had a recurring theme during free agency this offseason, taking chances on reclamation projects by signing players coming off significant, sometimes season-ending, injuries.
The approach brought Minnesota around to Chris Carr in early April to help the beleaguered secondary. Carr was coming off an injury-riddled 2011 season when he was limited to nine games, mostly because of a back injury. But Carr is an eight-year veteran, who has six career interceptions, had started 16 games in 2010 for a highly-regarded Baltimore Ravens' defense, and brought return ability with him.
Carr's one-year, 825,000 contract didn't receive much fanfare, but the Vikings are hoping Carr is the type of value addition and veteran influence that can help turn the team's fortunes.
Despite coming to a new team, which runs a different style than he is used, Carr knows he can help the Vikings, especially the young defensive backs on the roster.
"It's not only knowing the plays and how to run them, it's how do offenses try to attack you," Carr said. "When you're younger, you really don't know that. You really don't understand how to watch film. So, I think when it comes to that, and I'm already talking to a lot of the young guys, I feel like as we get going, and they've been here for a little while now, I just think it's going to be a tremendous improvement going out to this year than last season.
"Because last season, watching the tape, it wasn't so much talent. You could just tell sometimes they didn't exactly know how they were trying to attack us. They didn't have that experience."
Early on, Carr, 29, has been working with the second team corners behind starters Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook, and likely has the inside track on winning the nickel cornerback spot for the beginning of the season. But his impact now has been more about his work with his teammates than interceptions, coverage or tackling.
Winfield has been the longtime veteran leader among the Vikings' cornerbacks. Carr adds another voice and another opinion to help shape a secondary that doesn't have much experience with Cook, who has played only 12 games in his two seasons, second-year corners Brandon Burton and Marcus Sherels, rookie third-round pick Josh Robinson, and several other younger players fighting for roster spots.
Carr's quick grasp and understanding of Minnesota's Cover-2 defense has caught coach Leslie Frazier's attention.
"His smarts, that's the thing that jumps out at you," Frazier said. "You know getting a veteran he's going to be a guy that has a really good feel of the NFL game. But the way he's picked up some of the things that we're trying to incorporate with our defense and his leadership as well has been a big plus in the meeting rooms. He's provided something for us that we didn't know we would quite get; his leadership along with his smarts."
Carr believed he would be helping any young players in Baltimore's secondary after signing a four-year, 14 million contract last year. But after his season was marred by back and hamstring injuries, the Ravens decided to cut ties with Carr. Carr played nine games last year, starting once, and had 19 tackles and three pass deflections.
Injuries to starters gave Carr a chance to start all 16 games in 2010 and he had 61 tackles, two interceptions, eight pass deflections and four forced fumbles. He had started 10 games the previous four seasons while playing for Baltimore, the Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders, who signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Boise State in 2005.
Carr saw an opportunity for playing time in Minnesota. Despite his experience, coming to the Vikings has been a transition for Carr in a new system.
"It's a lot different; in Baltimore, it's pretty much man-to-man a lot of the time," Carr said. "And here, you have man-to-man and other stuff, but you have a lot of true zone coverages. I have to really get accustomed to doing that because I wasn't used to just playing true zone. But when you come from a system where you play a lot of man-to-man, I think when you come from a system like that, it really helps you out because you're used to having to play really good technique and being on your keys to play that type of defense. So, I feel comfortable in this type of defense because it gives the corners a little bit more help here. And I think just me being used to playing man-to-man so much is going to play well here."
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