Some players took a knee on the sideline. Others matriculated around the Gatorade coolers and immersed themselves in light conversation with teammates. Not involved in the drill, Carr remained off to the side, doing some light jogging, stretching out his legs and working on getting in and out of his breaks.
Carr insists he doesn’t have an explanation for his ability to start 144 consecutive games over his first nine professional seasons, the sixth-longest streak among active NFL players.
“I don’t really have an answer for it,” Carr said. “If I did, I’d probably write a book about it.”
At different points of his career, which started in 2008 with the Kansas City Chiefs as a fifth-round draft pick out of Grand Valley State, continued with the Dallas Cowboys and now has him readying for his first season as a Raven, Carr has attributed his durability to luck, God’s will, mental and physical preparation and an overriding desire to be out there for his teammates.
Ravens safety Eric Weddle has been a teammate of Carr’s for only 4½ months, long enough to see why the cornerback has answered the call for each and every game. Whether it’s a meeting, one of the defensive back drills or a part of practice that doesn’t even involve Carr, the 31-year-old is constantly preparing himself and his body for the grind of an NFL season.
“I love everything about Brandon — his professionalism, his work ethic, his accountability. A lot of people take for granted a guy like Brandon, just the consistency, how good he is. He’s just solid. You know what you’re going to get every day from him,” said Weddle, who has missed only seven games in his 10 NFL seasons. “There’s a reason guys play a lot of years in this league. Look at the way he conducts himself. It’s not just about talent. It’s about a lot of different factors.”
The Ravens have had a revolving door at the cornerback position. During John Harbaugh’s tenure as coach, which coincides with the length of Carr’s career, they have started 23 different cornerbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They’ve started at least four cornerbacks in each of the past three seasons and already this summer, they’ve lost their top option in the slot, Tavon Young, to a season-ending knee injury. Young’s likely replacement, Maurice Canady, could be sidelined for an extended period as well because of a knee problem.
The attrition at cornerback has been a huge impediment to winning and a source of great frustration for the coaching staff. It probably shouldn’t have been a surprise this offseason that the Ravens went out and added the most durable corner in the league. The bonus is they believe Carr, who signed a four-year, $24 million deal that essentially amounts to one year plus three option years, brings so much more than durability.
“The durability was a big part of it, no question. You have to be so impressed with the fact he practices every day in his whole career and plays all the time. Knock on wood — that continues … but that shouldn’t be the insinuation of the question, that we chose durability over talent or how good he is, because he was the best player, too,” Harbaugh said. “He was also the best corner on the market at the time, and that’s why we took him. The way he plays fits us really well, and we wanted that. I would say that the durability was a bonus.”
Carr has 552 career tackles, 15 interceptions, two defensive touchdowns and nine fumble recoveries. With the Cowboys for the past five seasons, he regularly matched up with receivers like Odell Beckham Jr. and DeSean Jackson.
“Your best talent is your availability, but not only that, this guy is a very talented football player,” Ravens secondary coach Chris Hewitt said. “He is a smart football player and a guy that has been a No. 1 corner for a lot of years in this league. You can’t be a No. 1 corner in this league without talent. He is a person that is going to go out there, and he is going to study the game. He is studying the receivers. He is studying routes, and he knows our defense.”
The fixation on Carr’s durability, though, is surely a byproduct of the number of injuries the Ravens have endured at cornerback, and recognition for how impressive his streak of starts is. Consider that the next longest streak among cornerbacks, according to ESPN, is held by the Arizona Cardinals’ Patrick Peterson with 96. That means it would take three full seasons for Peterson to catch Carr.
Overall, only quarterbacks Eli Manning (199) and Philip Rivers (176), tight end Jason Witten (163) and offensive tackles Joe Thomas (160) and Donald Penn (156) have started more consecutive games among active players than Carr.
“I’m blessed to be able to play this physical brand of football, play this many years, and stay healthy,” Carr said. “At the same time, it’s preparation — offseason, during the season, any given time I’m thinking football and getting my body prepared for the grind of the season. Once this grind starts, there’s a lot that goes into it. There’s a lot of sacrifice, commitment. So, I just make sure I’m the best that I can be, both mentally and physically.”
Grand Valley State head coach Matt Mitchell, who was first a defensive backs coach and then the defensive coordinator as Carr was helping the Lakers to two NCAA Division II titles, doesn’t recall Carr missing a game in college either.
“We talk about it in our program — try and perfect your craft. When Brandon was here, he was a guy that tried to perfect his craft — the technique, the film study, a lot of the non-God-given-ability stuff. He was 100 percent committed to that process, probably as good as any player that we’ve ever had here,” Mitchell said. “I don’t think at any point in time, he ever took anything for granted in his journey. He kept his edge.”
That edge was sharpened while at Carman-Ainsworth High School in Flint, Mich. When Carr graduated, he was only about 175 pounds. However, he embraced a rigorous workout regimen and by the time he was suiting up for Grand Valley, he had added nearly 20 pounds.
He credits his former Chiefs head coach, Herman Edwards, who had a 10-year NFL career as a defensive back, and former teammate Patrick Surtain for teaching him about the importance of being a pro and taking care of your body.
There have been plenty of times throughout his career when Carr woke up early in the week and concluded that there would be no way he’d be able to play a football game in a couple of days. His Achilles tendon was a regular source of discomfort early in his time with the Cowboys and he dealt with a shoulder injury during the 2015 season.
But come game time, Carr was out there ready to play. Whether it’s God’s will, good fortune, great preparation and work ethic or a combination of all of them, Carr isn’t questioning it. He just hopes it continues in his new NFL home.
“I’ve just been blessed to be able to play this game,” Carr said. “I’ve had injuries; we’ve all had injuries. We fight through them, play through them. I just love playing the game so much that if I have enough to give you, I’m going to give it to you.”