OXNARD, Calif. – Brandon Carr is routinely of the most approachable members of the Cowboys' roster. But speak to him for even a few minutes, and he won't make a secret about it.
Carr is well aware of the criticisms about himself, and about the Dallas defense. That's not something he's ever shied away from during his four years with the Cowboys. And given the amount of criticism facing that unit in 2016, the veteran corner thinks it's placed far more than a chip on their shoulders.
"I think it's bigger than a chip at this point – it's probably like a big boulder," Carr said. "We're not satisfied with last year's results. We have a lot of room for improvement. We left a lot of plays on the field."
Therein lies the crux of the issue for Carr, and for the defense as a whole. Despite a depleted offense, the Cowboys played well enough on defense to keep things competitive. But they surrendered far too many leads in crunch time, and they forgot how to take the ball away. In 2015, the Cowboys forced a measly 11 turnovers, tying the mark for worst in league history.
The numbers were especially discouraging for the cornerbacks. Deji Olatoye and Terrance Mitchell were the only corners to record interceptions last year – leaving a grand total of zero for the Cowboys' regular starters.
Carr himself hasn't nabbed an interception since Thanksgiving Day, all the way back in 2013 against the Oakland Raiders.
"I got bags under my eyes – I don't get much sleep, man. Still trying to find the ball," Carr said. "But you've just got to keep pursuing it, keep believing in yourself and come out here, battling each and every day. Because once they come, they come in bunches."
That's the hope if the Cowboys are to right the ship in 2016. The defense wasn't necessarily elite during 2014's playoff run, but they finished second-best in the NFL with 31 takeaways.
It goes further than that, though. On a personal level, two of the team's top three corners – Carr and Morris Claiborne – are entering contract years. Barry Church is in the same boat, which means three of the Cowboys' top five defensive backs are playing on expiring contracts.
Carr said the motivation is simple.
"Get the ball, get this money," he said. "Keep it simple. Get the ball, make some plays and you'll see what happens when it's all said and done."
As has been discussed thoroughly in recent months, Carr himself took a pay cut during the spring, dropping his 2016 pay day from $9 million to $4.25 million. But if Carr and Co. can get their hands on the ball, the results should be pretty good – for both the Cowboys and for their upcoming contract negotiations.
For his part, Carr hopes that an uninterrupted camp can help him fine tune his technique and keep focused. He hasn't always had good luck with that. In 2013, he departed camp briefly for the birth of his son, and in 2014 he had a lengthy absence after his mother passed away following a battle with cancer.
Last season, a broken hand limited him at training camp, while an ailing shoulder plagued him for most of the regular season.
"That's the biggest thing -- to be able to focus for an entire camp, knock on wood," Carr said. "And it's fun out here. You don't want to be at home watching from television or sitting in a hospital bed. I've always been blessed to battle back from those, but hopefully I can stick around for the rest of this camp and we can get some great energy flowing for this season."
The Cowboys could use some good energy, given the way 2015 unfolded. With that in mind, Carr said he and his fellow defenders are focused and moving forward.
"We know we all got some unfinished business. We pretty much started this thing together and put in the work for the last four or five years," Carr said. "Things didn't go the way that we thought they would for a few years, but you know the good thing about sports is that you get a clean slate, a new year. It's time for us to come out here and do it all over again."