When you think of great linebacker duos in the NFL today, the first group that probably comes to mind is Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman of the San Francisco 49ers. A few years ago, you might have said Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs from those great Chicago Bear defenses. But I am here to tell you that there is a new duo that will shock the league in 2013. If both players can stay healthy; Sean Lee and Bruce Carter may end up becoming the next great inside linebacking duo.
Last season, Dallas Cowboy fans were robbed of the opportunity to see the improvement of not only Sean Lee, but also second year rising star Bruce Carter. Sean Lee was injured in Week 7 after having a monster campaign to start the year. Bruce Carter was then lost for the season when he dislocated his elbow against the Redskins on Thanksgiving day. Each were coming into their own just as the injuries hit.
Most everyone knows how great a player Sean Lee is when healthy, but Bruce Carter also has the potential to be just as dominant, and the switch to the 4-3 will play to Carter’s strength. Bruce Carter is a rare and special athlete at the linebacker position. Carter can stuff the run between the tackles yet also fly from sideline to sideline to chase down ball carriers.
Bruce Carter is one of the NFL’s most physically gifted athletes at the linebacker position. Carter is 6’3 and weighs in at 235 lbs. Just a few short months after Carter tore his ACL at North Carolina, he ran a 4.47 40 yard dash at his UNC pro day. Not only was his speed impressive, but he also registered 40.5” in the vertical jump. To demonstrate just how rare an athlete he is for a man his size, below is a chart of Bruce Carter’s measurables as compared to some of the most athletic inside linebackers in the league.
|Name||Height||Weight||40 yard||Vertical||Bench Press|
Carter is a reliable tackler, but he isn’t a great hitter. He tends to be more of a drag down tackler, but he does do a good job of squaring up his target when necessary. He uses his whole body to take down opponents and doesn’t just reach for the ball carrier. Carter has excellent lower body strength which allows him to drive ball carriers backwards with excellent tackling technique.
A natural mover, Carter is best when asked to cover RBs and TEs one on one. Carter has the size to match-up with the “move” tight ends in the league, but also has the agility and athleticism to cover running backs out of the backfield. He isn’t an elite playmaker in terms of interceptions, but rarely gets beaten in pass coverage.
Read & React
This may be Bruce Carter’s best attribute due to his outstanding physical skill set. He does a very good job reacting to what he sees. Carter flies to the ball carrier and is one of the best sideline to sideline defenders in the league today. Carter also excels at recognizing play fakes and does not often get sucked in on play-action fakes. Once he knows where the ball is going, he is using his 4.47 speed to get to the play.
The play below is an example of Bruce Carter’s read and reaction skill and how he combines it with his impressive physical tools. The following play occurred against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 9. On a 3rd down and 3 play, the Falcons use their 11 personnel (3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 RB) package. Running back Jacquizz Rodgers is going to receive the hand-off with the hope that the Falcons offensive line can blow the Dallas defenders off the line of scrimmage. The Falcons designed this play with the intent that Rodgers will be able to gain a few yards before the linebackers can get there.
Bruce Carter (highlighted) is responsible for Jacquizz Rodgers on this play, but he also has to be aware of the play-action fake with Matt Ryan having three wide receivers on the field plus one tight end.
Bruce Carter’s eyes are on the ball, waiting to see if the quarterback is going to hand the ball off or roll out via a play-action fake. Carter is also watching which way Rodgers goes because if it is a run, he is going to need to get there in a hurry to get the Falcons off the field on 3rd down.
After Carter verifies Matt Ryan’s hand-off to Rodgers, he needs to quickly fill the massive hole left between the center and left guard to get to the ball carrier. Because of Carter’s athleticism and quickness, he is able to fill the hole quicker than the running back can get to it.
Getting to the ball carrier is just part of the play for Carter. He needs to go make the tackle without Rodgers moving forward for any extra yardage. One thing I love about Bruce Carter is that he is always attacking. Whether it is in pass coverage or on a running play like this, he is going at the ball carrier. This holds true here as he violently strikes Rodgers without leaving his feet, as he uses his lower body to drive him backwards.
Here is a different clip of Carter’s pad level. Rodgers is 5’6 and Carter is 6’3, yet, Carter gets lower than Rodgers which gives him the required leverage to stone the ball carrier in the backfield.
This is just another angle showing how Carter drives Rodgers back and behind the line of scrimmage.
If Bruce Carter can stay healthy, (and that is a big if) he can become one of the most dominant linebackers in football. The switch to the 4-3 should help Carter’s game more than any other Dallas Cowboy’s defender.