When Baltimore Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr's name was finally called in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL Draft, Carr's family celebrated, hollering and screaming all over his Flint, Mich., home. Carr, though, was, in his words, "just in the corner, like, 'Ah, this is just getting started, man.'"
Eleven years later, Carr is still going strong. And can still be found in a corner, only now it's for daily yoga sessions that help sustain him mentally and physically in a grueling sport that has already chewed up and spit out most of the 139 players selected before him in that draft.
Yoga seems a fitting outlet for the understated Carr, who has parlayed uncommon drive, determination and focus into an NFL career that has reached its second decade despite being a late-round pick out of Division II Grand Valley State.
He also has quietly become a strong civic presence during his two years in Baltimore. He has worked with a literacy program at Glenmount Elementary/Middle School in Northeast Baltimore, he has helped with the Ravens Flock Above mentorship program for city ninth-graders, and most recently, he visited with breast cancer patients at a local hospital to honor his late mother.
It's easy to see why Carr was twice the Dallas Cowboys' nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award, and why Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said Carr is "very, very good in our locker room."
'The best ability is availability'
Carr doesn't have the first-round cachet of Ravens cornerbacks Jimmy Smith or Marlon Humphrey. He was never invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. He was the 30th defensive back taken in the 2008 draft. He has never been to the Pro Bowl.
"I come from Division II," Carr said. "I had to scratch and claw for everything that I got."
But Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, like many other NFL coaches, has often said "the best ability is availability," and by that measure, Carr ranks among the very best in recent history.
Heading into the Ravens' Week 10 bye, Carr had started all 169 games played by his teams during his career -- 64 straight games with the Kansas City Chiefs from 2008-2011, 80 straight with the Cowboys from 2012-2016 and all 25 games played by the Ravens since 2017. That is the longest active streak of any defensive player and the second-longest in the league behind Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.
"Obviously he's been lucky with injuries," said safety Eric Weddle, who came into the league a year before Carr and has missed seven games in his career.
"And he's good," Weddle added with an emphatic nod. "You gotta be good. ... Can't say enough about the guy. He's an example of hard work, dedication, a love of the game. I mean, the guy's never missed a start. That's incredible."
The Ravens' cornerbacks room this season shows the value of that.
Smith missed the first four games serving a suspension for a violation of the league's personal conduct policy. Humphrey missed two games with a thigh injury. Rookie Anthony Averett missed five games with a hamstring injury. Maurice Canady is on injured reserve, as is Stanley Jean-Baptiste.
Through it all, Carr has played on, making good on the Ravens' decision to pick up his 2018 option, the first of three straight option years built into a four-year, $24 million deal he signed in 2017.
Through the first nine games this season, Carr had 29 tackles, one interception and led the team with eight passes defensed.
"Somebody up top is looking out for me," Carr said recently, "but at the same time, I take pride in just taking care of my body 365 days out of the year. It's nonstop, whether it's nutrition, whether it's training, whether it's using resources or just information ... to help me become a better person, player, human being."
"And there's some luck involved in it," he added. "As soon as you start this game, you're injured. You have something going on with you. Sometimes it comes down to a mental will to fight through it."
'Crazy yoga poses'
Carr, who turned 32 in May, has often been held out of practice on Wednesdays this season to deal with a nagging knee injury, though there's never been any question Carr would post come game day. He gets through the week with a diligent regimen that includes massage, proper nutrition, rest and, especially this year, yoga.
"He's always doing these crazy yoga poses," safety Tony Jefferson said.
Carr closed his eyes, shook his head and laughed, his dreadlocks waving behind him, after hearing Jefferson's take on his latest fitness focus.
"The guys see me doing weird stuff," Carr said. "I'm in the moment, doing my thing, and I look up and they laugh and I'm like, 'You're getting me off my focus right now.' I just try to add something each and every year. If it's not broke don't fix it, that's cool, but you can also enhance things."
Carr explained that he picked up yoga from his former teammate with the Cowboys, tight end Jason Witten. Carr said he tried it a few times then, but "I wasn't mature enough for it."
But each offseason he has looked to add some new fitness knowledge or technique to his regimen, and this year, it was yoga, with the help of trainers back in Dallas.
"It keeps me lean, keeps me nimble," Carr said. "It's nothing but stretching."
Carr has also taken on another cause this year, one that is close to his heart.
He recently spent time with breast cancer patients at Franklin Square Medical Center in memory of his mother, Kathy, who died in 2014 after two bouts with cancer.
"Four years later, I'm just getting the strength and the courage" to participate in such initiatives, Carr said candidly, noting the visit to Franklin Square conjured up memories of visiting his mother and aunts at the hospital. "I wanted to get involved in breast cancer [support]," he said, but until this year, "I just wasn't ready to be around the women."
Carr came bearing care packages that had been put together at the Ravens' complex along with two dozen custom-fitted wigs for patients. He also told the patients of his own mother and her "inner strength that kept her going and kept our family fighting throughout the process. That encouraged me to let her legacy live on."
On the field and off, Carr is shaping a nice legacy for himself. He has outlasted all but 16 of the 139 players drafted before him; he has had an impact in his community in Kansas City, Dallas and now Baltimore; and he has been a model of consistency for younger players.
"He's just a consummate pro," secondary coach Chris Hewitt said. "He's going to do all the right things and all the little things to prepare himself to go out there and go play on Sunday. And the way he prepares throughout the week, it trickles down to everybody else on our secondary. Having guys like him, it's huge."
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox
Issue 249: November 2018
Originally published Nov. 15, 2018