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.
Cowboys Wishlist: 3 Things I Want to See in Kellen Moore’s Offense
The Dallas Cowboys offense will mostly remain the same in terms of players. However, a big change is coming with new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore taking over the talented unit. In a special edition of Cowboys Wishlist, I'll share the three big things I want to see in Moore's offense in 2019.
Let me know what you want to see in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL!
Wish #1: Frequent Read Option
Despite Dak Prescott's skills as a runner, rarely did we see the Cowboys run read option plays. For a team that seems to have the perfect duo for these plays, they certainly seemed to have wasted it over the last few years. This is an offense that has plenty of talent to be struggling as much as they did in the red zone last year.
Imagine being concerned about Ezekiel Elliott getting the ball and Dak Prescott keeping it at the same time? Not to mention the play action threat with a group of receivers led by Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb... oh, and a veteran tight end in Jason Witten who might be older but whose hands are very reliable.
The Athletic's Bob Sturm pointed out Prescott's average of 4.46 yards per carry and 18 touchdowns in the red zone between 2016 and 2018. The league average for all players is 2.64 and there's no one close to over four yards and over 10 touchdowns in the league. Dak has been dangerous when using his legs and yet, the Cowboys haven't used the read option as much. I hope that changes with Kellen Moore taking over.
Wish #2: Use Tight Ends More
I'm still impressed by how little the Cowboys utilized their tight ends in 2018. In fact, as Bobby Belt noted on Twitter a few months ago, this has happened consistently in Scott Linehan's career.
One thing you consistently see when Scott Linehan takes over an offense is a drop in the starting tight end's production. Randy McMichael, Byron Chamberlain, and Jason Witten all saw drops in yards per catch, receptions per game, and yards per game once Linehan took over.
Last year, Blake Jarwin had only three games with more than three targets. In those games, he racked up 56, 45 and 119 yards. This makes me wonder if the real problem at tight end last season was more about how they were utilized rather than the players at the position.
With Jason Witten back, Jarwin and the future Hall of Famer could split the snaps. Hopefully, Kellen Moore gives them a more active role on the offense. I really think we'll see way more from them.
Wish #3: Pre-Snap Motion
Pre-snap motion is truly a thing of beauty. The simple fact of getting a player in motion before the ball is snapped can go a long way to keep a defense in its toes and cause confusion to set up a successful play. In Boise State, Moore ran an offense that heavily relied on pre-snap motions.
The first year offensive coordinator won't turn the Cowboys into the new L.A. Rams but he can add this kind of trickery to help Dallas take the next step offensively. Dak Prescott will be playing his fourth year of professional football and adding this to the offense will only help the young QB by making his reads even easier.
How Will Coaching Changes Impact Cowboys’ Backup QB Battle?
There has been a big shakeup on the Dallas Cowboys' coaching staff in 2019. Scott Linehan is out, Kellen Moore was promoted to Offensive Coordinator, and Jon Kitna was hired as the new Quarterbacks Coach. What impact will the changes have on the QB position, and especially when it comes to the battle for the backup role?
The contenders remain Cooper Rush, a third-year player who joined Dallas as an undrafted free agent in 2017, and 2018 fifth-round pick Mike White. Rush was the backup QB last season, but had a major experience edge over his rookie competition. That playing field will be more level now in White's second season.
The changes in the coaching staff even things out all the more. There is a new OC with new ideas and things to learn, and new QB coach with his own style and preferences. Rush and White are starting over together, in a way, with this new personnel.
Jon Kitna is especially intriguing in this conversation. Moore was here last year but Kitna brings a fresh set of eyes to the QB position. He also brings the resume of being an exceptional backup quarterback during his playing career, understanding what it takes to be a success in the role.
Kitna may see and appreciate things that neither Kellen Moore or Scott Linehan could.
For example, what made Cooper Rush take a backward step in his play from the 2017 preseason to last year? He was the undrafted underdog that took the backup QB job away from Kellen Moore two years ago, but last year was the incumbent trying to hold on to his spot against a new prospect.
Did Mike White being a drafted player get in Rush's head?
Jon Kitna spent a long time fighting off younger options. He may be able to help Cooper deal with that pressure.
Or perhaps it will go the other way; Kitna's fresh perspective could help push White up the depth chart. From the new QB coach's own lips, he's approaching this situation without preconceived notions:
"For me, it’s more of a clean slate. I just want to come in and help those guys and help them progress in their careers. If you get the best out of them, that’s going to be good for us at an organization.”
A few months ago I was pushing for Dallas to sign a veteran backup. With the Super Bowl in reach, I don't want to see the season go down the drain if something happens to Dak Prescott. It'd be nice to have our own Nick Foles ready to go.
While it doesn't appear the Cowboys will go that route, I'm at least comforted by having Jon Kitna's voice in the room. He could have a tremendous influence on Cooper Rush and Mike White, and perhaps upgrade the QB2 position even without a roster move.
If nothing else, I'm going to be more confident in the backup quarterback decision knowing that Kitna was involved in making it.
Despite Changes, Cowboys Offense Still Runs Through Ezekiel Elliott
We've talked a lot this offseason about the changes at Offensive Coordinator and slot receiver, or how Jason Witten's return will impact the tight end position. But while all of these will impact the Dallas Cowboys' offense in 2019, the constant feature remains Running Back Ezekiel Elliott and the rushing attack.
From 2016 to 2018, since the Cowboys drafted Elliott, Dallas has ranked 1st, 3rd, and 10th among NFL teams in "run vs. pass" play calls. That's only logical; you don't spend a fourth-overall pick on a RB and then not make him the featured player in your offense.
Zeke has certainly rewarded Dallas' decision; Elliott has led the league in total rushing two out of three years, and he led in yards-per-game in 2017 while dealing with his suspension.
Leaning on Elliott has been smart business based on his effectiveness, plus the investment in the offensive line over the last several years.
Dallas has now sunk three first-round picks (Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin), one second (Connor Williams), and now two thirds (Chaz Green and Connor McGovern) on building up their front wall. They've spent a lot of money to keep their All-Pro guys around, plus La'el Collins.
Some would try to paint the run-heavy approach as how the team is trying to hide the weaknesses of Dak Prescott at quarterback. But in 2014, with DeMarco Murray at RB and Tony Romo at QB, the Cowboys were still 3rd in the league in rush vs. pass attempts.
This isn't about Zeke or Dak, or any other specific player. This about a team philosophy that starts at the top with Jason Garrett, and that isn't going to change even with Kellen Moore taking over as the new Offensive Coordinator.
We're all excited to see what new wrinkles comes from getting rid of Scott Linehan. We highly anticipate the development of Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup in the offense, coupled with the addition of Randall Cobb. We're salivating at what Blake Jarwin might become under the tutelage of the great Jason Witten.
Heck, maybe we'll see fullback Jamize Olawale's receiving skills put to more use. Perhaps gadget guys like Tavon Austin or rookie Tony Pollard will be deployed in more creative ways.
And yes, Dak Prescott's growth is another major factor in Dallas' 2019 success. It's especially interesting, and even concerning, as talks are ongoing about his long-term contract.
But make no mistake, this is still the Ezekiel Elliott show. Even if a few more of his carries become receptions in Moore's scheme, Zeke should still get the lion's share of the touches.
That's why this week's news about his incident in Las Vegas is so troubling. It probably won't lead to a suspension, but we saw what happened in 2017 when Elliott was missing for over a third of the season.
While Dallas should be better able to withstand losing Zeke now than it was two years ago, it may still be more than Prescott, Cooper, and the rest could handle. It definitely wouldn't put the Cowboys in good position to compete for a Super Bowl.
In the end, the 2019 will still come down to how well Dallas runs the ball. It's the engine; nothing else matters if the rushing game doesn't set everyone else up for success.
Don't ever take it for granted. This is still Ezekiel Elliott's offense.
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