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: Dress Rehearsal Edition
In the NFL, the third preseason week is often referred to as the "Dress Rehearsal." It's usually the week in which starters get the most playing time. That has changed lately, with plenty of teams deciding to take care of their key players instead of risking them on the field. However, the Dallas Cowboys have played their starters on their first two games and there's no reason to believe that will change versus the Texans today.
Here is my wishlist for the Cowboys vs Texans "Dress Rehearsal!" Let me know what your wishes for tonight's game are in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL!
Wish #1: Justin Phillips Locks Up a Roster Spot
Phillips has been one of the most surprising players this offseason and preseason. The Cowboys are set at linebacker, but Phillips has made sure to be a tough guy to cut. Last week, he had a remarkable interception against the Rams. Despite making a first step toward the line, he managed to adjust and made the play. He has followed it up with more plays in practice.
If he keeps it up, the Cowboys won't be able to cut him. He has the potential to be a force on special teams and a quality backup.
Wish #2: Devin Smith Makes Things Interesting
The battle for the final wide receiver spots is at full-go. Devin Smith has shined lately, and has risen as a serious candidate to make the roster. However, it seems like other wide receivers have the upper-hand as of now. Earlier this week, I made my Cowboys WR Power Rankings and had Devin Smith at #7.
His TD catch versus the Rams last week was pretty impressive, and I wish he makes a few more plays to make the debate all the more interesting.
Wish #3: Tony Pollard Does It Again
Fifth-round rookie Tony Pollard
stole was the show last weekend as he racked up 51 total yards (five carries, one catch) and a touchdown on Dallas' first offensive drive. He looked impressive as the starting running back, giving us just what we wanted to see.
While many have advertised him as a gadget player, Pollard proved he can actually be a "standard" RB. He ran between the tackles, showed power, balance and great vision. I'm ready to watch it again, this time versus the Texans.
Wish #4: Taco Charlton Shines Rushing The Passer
Taco Charlton has made a couple of plays in preseason on his third year with the Dallas Cowboys. Against the Rams, he batted down two passes and looked good separating from opposing offensive linemen. Charlton has gotten praise from some analysts during these first two preseason weeks.
But I want to watch some quality pass rush from his part. Right now, the Cowboys' roster counts with some promising players, including rookies Jalen Jelks and Joe Jackson. While they're currently below Taco, he must prove he belongs on the roster.
Cowboys’ Tight End Marcus Lucas with Huge Opportunity vs the Houston Texans
With only two preseason games remaining, opportunities to make a statement are growing thin. The Dallas Cowboys have very few spots on the roster available, especially at the tight end position where Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz appear to have the depth chart locked down. The problem is, Jarwin and Schultz have been dealing with injuries and missed the second preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams and probably won't play against the Houston Texans tonight.
Enter Marcus Lucas.
Marcus Lucas hasn't been a member of the Dallas Cowboys for very long, but he's already made an impact.
In his first preseason game with the Dallas Cowboys, Lucas caught four passes on four targets for 20 yards. His receptions went for two, seven, five, and six yards for an average of five yards per reception. He did have a holding penalty that cost the Dallas Cowboys 10 yards on a first down play that didn't go anywhere anyway.
Though Lucas has bounced around NFL practice squads, he's never really found a home. After going undrafted in 2014, Lucas was signed by the Carolina Panthers in May of that year but wasn't able to stick on the 53-man roster and was released and placed on the practice squad. In 2015, he was on the Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears practice squads. In 2016, the Panthers brought him back in the summer after the Bears released him from their 90-man roster. That September after cut-down day, the Seattle Seahawks signed Lucas to their practice squad where he spent all of 2016. From 2017 to the end of 2018, Lucas spent time with the Indianapolis Colts, Oakland Raiders, Detroit Lions, the Seattle Seahawks again, and the San Francisco 49ers. He was with the 49ers in 2019 before joining the Dallas Cowboys about two weeks ago and will get an extended run in these final two preseason games.
At Thursday's practice, Lucas was the only tight end available with Jason Witten getting a rest day and Jarwin, Schultz, and fellow Tight End Cody McElroy dealing with injuries.
With Jason Witten getting a day of rest, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz and Codey McElroy injured, the Cowboys have one tight end practicing today: Marcus Lucas, who has been with the team for about two weeks.
It's possible that Lucas may get an extended amount of playing time tonight with an opportunity to show the Dallas Cowboys and the rest of the NFL that he's ready to land on a 53-man roster. With likely only Jason Witten being the only other tight end active for the game against the Houston Texans, Lucas will get a lot of playing time. If his last preseason exposure is any indication, he'll get the chance to display his receiving prowess.
At 27, Lucas likely has few opportunities left to make his mark for an NFL franchise. On a team that proclaims the "next man up" as a battle cry, after Witten, Lucas is the next man up for tonight and depending on his performance could make the Dallas Cowboys front office or another front office around the league take notice.
Depending on the long-term health of the Dallas Cowboys' tight end position, Lucas may find his path to a roster spot simply dependent upon the health of Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz. Though a job may not come with the Dallas Cowboys, tonight is an extremely important audition for his next suitor. How he performs tonight could land Marcus Lucas a job after the Dallas Cowboys trim the roster to 53 next week.
They say "preseason games don't matter," but to Marcus Lucas, this might be the most important game of his career.
Don’t Forget Special Teams Value in Cowboys Roster Decisions
Building a 53-man roster in the NFL is a complex formula, requiring balance between numerous positions on each side of the ball. But what often gets overlooked in our analysis as outsiders is special teams, and that's a huge factor for many of the Dallas Cowboys players hoping to make it past final cuts.
Some players have survived in the league by being just good enough at their listed positions but excelling in special teams roles. You may think of former Dallas safety Bill Bates, who was personally responsible for a special teams player being made part of the annual Pro Bowl roster. A more recent example would be Keith Davis, who was an adequate safety but a special teams ace for several seasons.
To be sure, someone is going to be on this 2019 Cowboys more for their special teams value than their actual offensive or defensive ability. Who might he, or they, be?
One candidate is veteran Cornerback C.J. Goodwin. He is considered an exceptional talent in coverage on punts, which is probably the only reason he's still in the NFL today. At age 29, Goodwin has never really emerged as a consistent contributor on defense.
Young players like Donovan Olumba or rookie Michael Jackson, if not already superior cornerbacks to Goodwin, have far more upside to keep on the roster. But
considering how little they may get on the field anyway as the fifth or sixth corners, you can see why special teams value becomes so important. It may be the only time you actually see them in the game.
If the Cowboys don't want to lose a young prospect but can't let go of Goodwin's special teams ability, it may prompt them to go long at the CB position. But that means taking a roster spot from some other position, and thus the balancing act continues.
Another player to watch in this discussion is second-year an Running Back Jordan Chunn. He doesn't have Alfred Morris' experience or maybe Mike Weber or Darius Jackson's rushing talent, but he has been showing up on the special teams units.
Yesterday, Cowboys insider Bryan Broaddus called Chunn "a better Rod Smith" in analyzing his chances of making the roster. If you don't recall, Jaylon's older brother was a solid RB but a standout special teams player in his few years with Dallas.
As we just mentioned with the 5th/6th CB slots, the third running back is not a guy you expect to see much on offense. That will be especially true this year as Dallas will be struggling just to give rookie Tony Pollard the touches he deserves as the number-two RB.
Given that, special teams play becomes vital for the value of whoever is behind Zeke and Pollard on the depth chart. If Jordan Chunn is superior to his competition in that regard, it could negate whatever he lacks as an actual running back.
This same conversation can be had throughout the roster. It's why Noah Brown might make the team over more traditionally gifted receivers, or why a certain linebacker or safety might be more valued than others.
We make the common mistake of referring to "both sides of the ball" when we talk about football teams. There are three sides; special teams can't be underestimated. It will certainly play a part in how the Dallas Cowboys finalize their 53-man roster this season and in years to come.
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