Having followed Bruce Carter since he was a freshman at the University of North Carolina, it would be hard to find someone that's pulling for him more than I am, and it would be hard to find someone that was as disappointed as I was in his play during the 2013 season.
I can remember watching him at Carolina thinking how it would be so awesome if the Cowboys could get this guy, and that was just in his sophomore year in 2008. I watched his game and level of play skyrocket in 2009 and 2010, and knew the only chance the Cowboys had of landing him was if they traded up for him in the draft. However, Carter tore his ACL late in the 2010 season and his draft stock plummeted.
Bruce Carter went from being a projected high first round pick to being projected as a second to third round pick because of the knee injury. So then, and only then, did I think Jerry could draft him.
Well, you know the rest. Jerry did indeed draft Bruce and he came in and basically red-shirted the 2011 season. However in 2012 after taking over for Sean Lee (because of injury) he showed why he was projected as a high first round pick. He played like a seasoned veteran until his season ended early because of a dislocated elbow.
Hopes were so high for the Cowboys linebacker coming into the 2013 season that many Cowboy fans began boasting the team had the best linebacker duo in the game, dubbing Sean Lee and Bruce Carter “Bruce Lee.”
Things didn't exactly start out like that in the 2013 season. The defense was learning a new scheme brought in by Monte Kiffin, Sean Lee picked it up fine but Bruce seemed to struggle early in the season and struggled often. But I wasn't worried; I knew what the former Tar Heel could and would do. Things didn't get any better for Bruce as the season wore on. It got to the point where Carter lost his starting position to Ernie Sims, and with that came the loss of confidence.
But to me, there had to be another reason why Bruce struggled. I knew it couldn't just be about his confidence. So I started to do some research and I think I found the main reason why Bruce Carter struggled so much. Bruce played in a cover-2 scheme in college for the tar heels, so I knew there couldn't be that big of a difference between that and Kiffin's defense in Dallas. Yes, there are differences in every cover-2 defense but the concept remains the same.
So I went back and watched some of his games while he was at the University of North Carolina. While watching, I noticed something – Bruce was playing everywhere and he was lining up in every linebacker position at some point during the game.
In the 2010 game against LSU you can see Bruce line up in the Mike, Sam and Will, so I checked a couple of other games and again he was lining up all over the place.
One thing that came to mind while I was watching this beast run all over the place was how much could Bruce have learned about any particular spot while moving around so much?
When Bruce arrived in his rookie year he basically red-shirted, like I mentioned earlier. He was learning a new system and also learning how to play one position while at the same time getting his knee stronger. In 2012 he comes out as a starter after spending a year learning a position and he ends up playing well. He was able to step right in and take over for Sean Lee when he down with an injury.
So 2013 comes. New Defensive scheme, new position. It was still a defensive scheme and position he played in college.
Everyone thought he would excel, that he would be the Derrick Brooks of the Buc's Tampa-2. Bruce lined up at the weak side linebacker spot (Also known as the Will) and that was his, but things never seemed to click. So that takes me back to it – just how much time did he spend at the Will for him to excel in the pro's while he was in college? I think his play from last season answered that. And in my opinion, this was his downfall last season.
I think Bruce was basically learning to play a position he'd played before, but never really got a chance to concentrate on it until now. It was as if he was going through his rookie season all over again, learning a new/old position on the fly and not sitting back and watching like he was able to in 2011.
In a piece I wrote about losing Lee and finding his replacement I gave a list of names that had been thrown around as a replacement for Lee, and Carter was one of those names. However, I felt moving Carter now would be a setback to all the work he's put in learning the defense and learning the Will linebacker position in this particular style of cover-2.
I happen to be on the same line of thinking as defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli when he stated on June 2, “I didn't want to hinder Carter's progress by moving him back to middle linebacker.”
Jason Garrett basically said the same thing about Bruce in his press conference on June 2, “Bruce Carter needs to settle into one position and allow himself to use his athleticism to make plays.”
This tells me Bruce has been putting in the work to learn and master his craft, and the coaches have seen this and think he can excel at weak side linebacker. He was able to play all over in this cover-2 scheme in college because he was just an athletic freak, and never had to concentrate on one position. As we all know, it doesn't always work like that in the pros. You have to perfect your craft to last in this league.
So I'm saying it right here and right now, Bruce Carter will have a great season. He's proved after getting some time to learn a position that he can play great. And this season, he will do just that. I not only think Bruce will play great, but I predict he will become the defensive leader on this team as well.
Let me know what you think, leave your comments and also follow me on twitter @bleatherman2011.