Can Dallas Cowboys LB Bruce Carter Save the Season?

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Aug 29, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys inside linebacker Sean Lee (50) on the sidelines during the game against the Houston Texans at AT

Dallas has it’s own history with UNC after having taken now-retired defensive ends Greg Ellis and Ebenezer Ekuban in the first round of back-to-back NFL drafts in 1998 and 1999, respectively.

Carter certainly built a big-play resume in college but he’s yet to come close to duplicating that characteristic as a professional. To an extent, health has been an issue, one trait that does date back to his days at Chapel Hill and one that has carried over to the NFL.

Otherwise, one has to wonder why exactly Carter hasn’t lit things up in a system very similar to what he was playing as an amateur just three years ago. His awful showing against San Diego earlier this season was probably the first major glimpse of something very wrong. A guy that should mean about as much to this Dallas defense as former Tampa Bay superstar-linebacker Derrick Brooks meant to the Buccaneers defense a decade ago should not be giving up multiple touchdowns receptions to a marginal NFL player like Danny Woodhead, period.

My suspicion, beyond obviously suffering his share of injuries that have prevented Carter from playing a complete regular season so far, is that Carter might be playing a bit too heavy. While at UNC, Carter played at around 235 pounds, a good 10 pounds lighter than his current playing weight of about 245 pounds.

Carter was going to add some weight in the NFL just because he’s reached that level. Further, Dallas obviously had an interest in encouraging that project given that Carter needed more weight to play inside linebacker in the now-scrapped 3-4 scheme. In other words, if you’re going to have a nose guard as lightweight as Jay Ratliff playing the middle of a three-man defensive line, you better have some heavier linebackers on the inside to take on bigger blockers coming out of the opposing offense’s backfield. Obviously the Cowboys were never well built for that, hence the move back to the 4-3 under defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.

Carter probably needs to slim down again. This is where his athleticism shines and it’s ridiculous to suggest that he’s just a poor fit in Dallas’ new scheme.

There’s a combination of factors that explain the Cowboys’ difficulties on defense this year—most of it is truly bad luck with respect to a second straight season of extensive injuries.

But if we’re just talking about Carter and what he means to this franchise moving forward, better health and lighter weight are certainly parts of the equation. Time will tell if either one is ever accomplished, but it’s not likely to take too much time.

Carter’s rookie contract expires after the 2014 regular season and he’s going to be looking for what might be his only large contract as a veteran player. He’ll be in the same situation that injured hybrid-defensive end Anthony Spencer was in last season while playing under the one-year “franchise tag”.

One would think that Carter will be awfully hungry next season in trying to either land a big, multiyear extension to stay with the Cowboys or possibly to be offered a huge signing bonus to play elsewhere in 2015.

Either way, Carter can start to make a case for that project beginning Sunday afternoon at FedEx Field in Washington.

Carter told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he expects to play against the Redskins despite not having been active for last week’s historic meltdown-loss to the Green Bay Packers. While it doesn’t sound like he’s in very good physical condition following the hamstring injury at Chicago against the Bears less than two weeks ago, he’s at least singing the right tune when it comes to preparing for this all-important game as opposed to simply sitting out again:

With me having the experience I do have, my job, I just want to go in there and get everybody lined up. I think once we can get everybody lined up and get into position where we need to be, I think things will kind of fall into place and it’ll flow a lot better. If we can get that done, I think we’ll be great.

I’m not sure that simply lining up correctly is going to bring forth greatness, but I do get Carter’s point.

Dallas was without its top four linebackers during most of the second half against the Packers, a fact that goes much further in explaining last weekend’s meltdown than the suggestion by some that Kiffin is just too old and that pro football has just passed him by.

Carter may or may not have a long-term future with the Cowboys, but one thing is for sure: With ailing defensive leaders like defensive end DeMarcus Ware and Lee likely done for the season, it’s safe to say that Dallas’ postseason hopes are tied, in large part, to its second-round selection in the 2011 NFL draft.

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Topics: Bruce Carter, Dallas Cowboys

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  • SmartThinking

    Can Carter save the Cowboys’ season? He should focus on playing to keep his job after his pitiful performances so far this season!

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