The Oakland Raiders are now faced with an interesting conundrum for 2016 and beyond: what to do with defensive back TJ Carrie?
What may have seemed like an easy decision for Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr., when the season ended, was made much more interesting Tuesday afternoon when the team announced the release of veteran safety Nate Allen.
Allen, who was signed just a year ago, only appeared in five games for the Silver and Black due to injury, and it was his absence in the secondary that prompted a position change – at least a temporary one, for Carrie.
After playing the first two games of the regular season at his natural position of cornerback, the former Ohio Bobcat made his first career start at safety in Week 3 against the Cleveland Browns.
Carrie played well in his first extended run at safety, totaling four total tackles and recording a pair of passes defensed in the process.
He remained at safety until mid-November, at which point he returned to the outside for the team's Week 10 bout with the Minnesota Vikings.
Carrie made one more start at safety due to injuries in the secondary, but the point remains; with the departure of Nate Allen and the retirement of the future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson, the young defensive back's position going forward is far from certain.
Heading into the offseason, it was no secret that the Raiders' secondary would likely undergo a makeover, but with the news of Allen's release, as well as the growth that Carrie showed during his time at safety, Carrie represents an intriguing piece in the puzzle of Norton's defense.
So herein lies the conundrum going forward for Norton and his staff— behind newcomer David Amerson, Carrie is arguably the team's best cover corner, but now without Woodson and Allen, could he be even more valuable on the back end?
While Head Coach Jack Del Rio played coy all season when asked about Carrie's future long-term position, Carrie has gone on the record saying that he'll do whatever he needs to do, and play wherever he needs to play in order for the team to be successful.
"When you get into this business, it's always whatever for the team, because we're all trying to reach that common goal of winning a championship," Carrie told Raiders.com. "When coaches ask you, 'we need you do to this to benefit the team so we can reach that goal,' it's a no brainer."
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He continued, "It's exciting, man. You get to do some things you're not comfortable with, you get out of your comfort zone, but the great ones are comfortable being uncomfortable, so seeing it, believing it, is something I'm willing to do."
The Silver and Black ranked 26th in pass defense in the NFL last season, allowing 258.8 yards per game through the air, so addressing the state of the secondary will certainly be on General Manager Reggie McKenzie's to-do list in the coming months.
However, McKenzie will have to add more than just a piece or two, as the Raiders currently don't have a natural safety under contract for next season.
Now, that won't remain the case going forward, but it certainly makes Carrie all the more valuable on an already young defense.
Whatever happens in the coming months though, Carrie remains steadfast that he'll play whatever position is asked of him – however, what position that is remains a mystery.
"I don't want to really be defined as playing a specific position, when the versatility allows us to do a lot of things on that back end," Carrie explained. "It's fun, but at the end of the day, [there's] still a lot of work that has to be put forth for people to really recognize that, 'man, he doesn't really play corner, he doesn't really play safety, nickel, this guy, you can just put him wherever you need to and he can get the job done.' It's something that I'm continuing to work on."