Carr could join CB mix and amp up return game

Chris Carr (Getty Images)

The Bills have been proactive on the defensive side of the ball throughout free agency. This week has been all about the secondary. Days after signing William James, another cornerback was brought in for a visit. And this one could help on multiple levels...

The search for depth in the defensive backfield isn't over yet.

Two days after signing William James, Buffalo welcomed restricted free agent Chris Carr from Oakland in for a visit Thursday.

A three-year veteran, Carr was a backup cornerback and kickoff returner for the Raiders. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound corner from Boise State had 28 tackles and one pass breakup last season. On a miserable Raiders' team, Carr saw plenty of opportunities as the team's primary kick returner. On 201 returns in three seasons, he has averaged 24 yards per runback. Two seasons ago, Carr picked off a Ben Roethlisberger pass and returned in 100 yards for a touchdown in a 20-13 Raiders' win.

But he's ready to be freed.

"Personally I want to get out of Oakland" Carr said. "I just want a change and a shot to go somewhere else and prove I'm a starting corner or starting nickel back."

He'd have a decent shot at that in Buffalo, where the Bills' secondary ranked a disappointing 29th in pass defense last season. Terrence McGee will most likely retain his starting spot, but the other corner position is wide open. James, Jabari Greer and Ashton Youboty would vie for that role if training camp started today - although each starting candidate has a noticeable flaw. James is the biggest of the bunch, but a lack of speed got him demoted to the No. 4 cornerback in Philadelphia. Greer was the whipping boy on Buffalo's pass defense struggles last year, and Youboty hasn't lived up to his draft hype, building a reputation as a softer player.

Buffalo could still draft a cornerback in April's draft. The team will have their pick of the litter at the No. 11 overall pick, including Tennessee State's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Nonetheless, a huge opportunity for playing time exists in Buffalo's secondary. Carr knows this.

"Coach Jauron was pretty straightforward," he said. "I liked him a lot I met with the defensive coordinator for a while and I like the scheme. They play some man-to-man and some Tampa-2 coverage. Out in Oakland I played man-to-man pretty much every single play. But I like this scheme where they mix up some cover-two. (Defensive coordinator) Perry (Fewell) said he looks at his personnel and I structure my defense around the personnel that I have. I think that's an intelligent thing to do as a coach. It's been a great trip thus far."

Carr's biggest asset

One reason the Bills may be pursuing Carr is to reduce McGee's double-duty. As a starting cornerback and kick returner, McGee rarely is on the sideline. In four seasons, he's averaged 26.4 yards taken five kicks back for touchdowns. Possibly, Buffalo envisions a McGee-Carr double-threat on kick returns, which would simultaneously reduce McGee's workload on special teams and gived him an extra jolt of energy on defense.

The Houston Texans used this multi-returner strategy last year and ranked second in the NFL in kick return average (26.5). Andre Davis (32 kick returns, 968 yards, 30.3 average, 3 touchdowns), Dexter Wynn (22-523-23.8-0), and Jerome Mathis (11-320-29.1-1) constantly kept coverage units guessing. Opposing teams never knew who to prepare for, and Houston somehow went 8-8 in arguably the NFL's toughest division.

Buffalo has one of the best special teams units in the league. Adding Carr would be cheap and it could take the unit to another level. A constant short field would be very beneficial to Buffalo's ultra-green offense.

Since Carr entered the league as an undrafted free agent, Oakland would not receive any compensation if the restricted free agent signed with another team. The Raiders would have seven days to match the contract.

Carr has no other free agent visits scheduled, and like tight end Courtney Anderson was, he is anxious to find a new home ASAP.

"I want to make a decision pretty soon," Carr said. "I want to get somewhere and learn the defense and be with the teammates. Those are the people you're going to be around. You don't want to show up and training camp and be introducing yourself. I want to do it pretty soon. I would like to, but it doesn't always work out that way."

Tyler Dunne is the Publisher of the Buffalo Football Report. Contact him at thdunne@gmail.com

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