ALAMEDA, Calif. — Breon Borders is due at the Raiders’ facility at 7 a.m. on a normal workday.
That is when all 10 practice-squad players are scheduled to meet for a lift in the team weight room. There, the cornerback routinely sees fellow undrafted rookies like tight end Pharaoh Brown, wide receiver Isaac Whitney and defensive end Fadol Brown. They share a goal to prove themselves at the NFL level.
Borders notices another person, too.
“I’m like, ‘Sheesh.’ It’s crazy,” Borders said of the veteran’s work ethic. “It’s showing. It’s showing.”
No Raiders cornerback is considered more versatile than Carrie. Likewise, none have played more snaps this season, as he’s been a constant at a position plagued with instability. At age 27, Carrie has solidified himself into a leader and example to teammates.
Borders isn’t the only young player to catch Carrie’s habits.
“He’s always in there, the first one in the meeting rooms,” rookie safety Shalom Luani said. “He watches film probably more than anybody I know. It (translates) onto the field. I believe he’s going to be there. I believe he’s going to do his job.”
“I’m only one year younger than him,” cornerback Dexter McDonald said. “But me coming in as a rookie, he was a guy I’d see. For example, he may be up earlier than the time he has to be up or stay later than he has to stay. Just little things. He’s watching film a day earlier than when normal people might watch film. When I see stuff like that from a guy, it does nothing but fuel me and shows me the right type of pro that I should want to follow.”
Not long ago, Carrie followed other veterans’ lead.
He entered the NFL as a 2014 seventh-round pick out of Ohio. He heard coaches often repeat a phrase: “Be a pro.” He was unsure what that exactly entailed, he said, until seeing the likes of defensive end Justin Tuck, defensive end LaMarr Woodley, running back Maurice Jones-Drew and safety Usama Young.
Perhaps the greatest example, Charles Woodson, hammered the definition home.
Woodson is poised to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as early as 2021. The cornerback-safety spent 11 of his 18 NFL seasons with the Raiders. Present for the final two of them, Carrie closely observed the nine-time Pro Bowler, looking to garner tips he could apply to his own career.
He noticed that he’d never seen Woodson use a cold or hot tub.
“I always thought, ‘How is this guy doing this for so long?’” Carrie said. “I always asked him, ‘What do you do?’ And he’s like, ‘Man, I drink my bottle of wine, and I work hard.’ I said, ‘You don’t get into the cold tub. There’s got to be certain things you do.’ It wasn’t until I got injured and we were required to be here early enough to get treatment when I got here really early. I saw him in the cold tub. I saw him in the hot tub. I was like, ‘Man, he does do those things. But if you’re not here early enough, you’d never know.’
“Little things like that, I started to see and I’m like, ‘I guess it takes being here early to be a pro.’ So I started to adjust my regimen to be here early. Once I finalized those things, I started putting in my own plan and integrating it.”
Carrie usually arrives at Raiders headquarters around 6:45 a.m. As important, he said, is the work done at home when no one is watching, be it stretching, extra running or perhaps exercises devoted to address an injury he might be rehabbing.
This year, his 435 defensive snaps (out of 445) pace an injury-stricken cornerback group. No one else has 300.
Carrie, who’s played both outside and in the slot, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March.
“TJ has been outstanding,” defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. “He’s been consistent. He’s been one of our high-level, very good players, somebody you can really depend on. He’s the type of guy that’s a professional. You know what you’re going to get every day. He comes to work, to practice, to study, to ask the right questions, to learn – he’s a pro. We’re very glad he’s on our team. We need a lot of pros. If we had a team full of TJs, we’d be pretty good.”
Total snaps for Raiders cornerbacks in 2017