There is some legitimate excitement brewing about the possible emergence of Bruce Carter this season. Carter spent last season in a limited role as he nursed injury. He is an athletic inside linebacker with a lot of upside. While the excitement is indeed warranted it makes me feel like we’re forgetting one thing… The Dallas Cowboys went out this offseason and signed ILB Dan Connor from Carolina.
Dan Connor is a player who was the top ILB in 2008’s draft out of Penn State University. Not an overly athletic player but one who has an extreme knack for the ball. Connor is a bit of a tackling machine who strings plays out very well and can shed blocks to make plays behind the line of scrimmage.
One of the most intriguing things about this signing is the fact that Dan Connor is the player Sean Lee has modeled his game after. Now the two are back together after a productive pairing at PSU and you get the feel that this could be the start of something very good. At PSU in 2007 Dan Connor ranked 7th in the NCAA in tackles with 145 while Sean Lee ranked 15th with 138. Together the two were considered one of the best linebacker tandems, if not the best, in college football and were able to help mold the 5th overall rush defense allowing 1055 yard total.
I took some time to watch some tape and I found myself slightly mesmerized by the 2007 PSU linebackers. Together they were incredible, often mistakable because of their similar style of play. However, you could also see the compliment they played to each other. Sean Lee is as dangerous in coverage as he is when attacking ball carriers, and Dan Connor is a vicious linebacker who is rarely not in on a tackle or play.
I know that it sounds like I’m anti-Bruce Carter however, I am not. I’m excited about Carters potential but I think that he is best placed in sub-packages. Carter is 6’2, 241 lbs. He runs a 4.57 second 40 yard dash and put up 25 reps on the bench press during the 2011 combine. Carter has what the defense has been looking for in versatility. He has the athleticism and overall potential to play both inside and outside linebacker positions and could be a key cog in Rob Ryan’s complicated multiple-defense.
If I had to be honest, I think Connor and Lee are the best two ILB’s we could put out on the field in the base defense. However, I think Carter could be a good spell linebacker and can fit in all 4 positions. A good linebacker group is getting better with the moves that have been made. If employed properly you could be looking at a very dangerous, playmaking group. If history has anything to say about it you can expect a great tandem between Lee and Connor. If Rob Ryan has anything to say about it you could be looking at a great future with Lee, Connor, and Carter.