Brandon Carr knows he is the high-priced cornerback for a Dallas defense that tied a franchise low for interceptions in his first year with the Cowboys.
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He understands Dallas changed everything but the players on defense, replacing coaches, switching schemes and putting a stronger emphasis on turnovers.
Carr’s cool with it – as in calm and seemingly confident.
”I mean, it’s Year 6,” said Carr, who started all 80 games in his first five NFL seasons. ”You don’t get no younger. You don’t get these years back. So hopefully this will be the year that I could turn the corner as a player.”
That might not mean more than the three interceptions he had last year to lead the Cowboys, who tied Carr’s original team, Kansas City, for last in the league with seven. It might not mean more than the career-high four he had in his final season with the Chiefs.
But maybe it will mean more fumbles and passes that he tips and someone else grabs.
”I’m not going to put any added pressure on myself,” said Carr, who is entering the second year of a five-year, $50 million deal with about $25 million guaranteed. ”I’m still going to do it in the framework of our defense. I want to go out there and be that lockdown, shutdown corner and make some turnovers and create some excitement for the fans and for my teammates.”
Cowboys safety Danny McCray points out that what Carr lacked in quantity last season, he made up some in quality.
Carr had a huge interception in a comeback win at Cincinnati the day after Dallas practice squad player Jerry Brown died in a car accident that led to involuntary manslaughter charges against teammate Josh Brent.
A week later, Carr essentially won a game against Pittsburgh by returning an interception of Ben Roethlisberger’s pass to the 1-yard line in overtime.
”To me, just the way I’m looking at it, some of those interceptions he had were worth two,” said McCray, a special teams ace who ended up as the team’s second-leading tackler last season because of injuries at safety. ”I know it’s on his mind now to get more. That’s the type of player he is.”
Carr never has been an interception machine. He didn’t get to double digits for his career until the pick against the Bengals, and now has 11. Even though Dallas gave him a big contract and traded way up to draft Morris Claiborne at No. 6 last year, the team’s seven interceptions matched a franchise low from 1997 and 1989.
”Turnovers are a team thing,” coach Jason Garrett said. ”More than just the guy with the ball. Takeaways are the same thing. We’re going to make a huge emphasis on it. We know the importance of it. We know the significance of it. We have to get better.”
Carr says he has to be better, too. He’s been around the Cowboys for a year now, so he’s more than just the big money guy. He’s got a bigger voice, too.
”He looks a lot more comfortable out there,” McCray said. ”Even though he got the big contract, he was still the new guy. Now we pretty much know him, and I think we’re more tight as a unit and he’s a leader of that unit.”
The question is whether that leadership has to show up with a big number in the interception column. Carr says not necessarily, but that doesn’t mean he disagrees that his production could be better.
”I am not content with last year,” he said. ”And that’s a good thing right now because it gives me extra motivation and fuel to try to get better and at the same time pull my teammates.”
Another part of the motivation is a revamped defensive coaching staff that is switching from the 3-4 to the 4-3 under new coordinator Monte Kiffin. The staff also includes Rod Marinelli, who ran Chicago’s turnover-leading defense last year.
Carr and the rest of the Cowboys saw it up close in a 34-18 Bears win that included five interceptions of Tony Romo. Now Carr is seeing why the Bears led the league with 44 takeaways.
”They show us all types of clips of the defenses the coaches have been involved in where guys are creating turnovers,” Carr said. ”Just simple plays that we may not think something is happening, balls are coming out and guys are around it, scooping it up. Guys are really seeing it now and they’re buying into it.”