Bruce Carter was the first name that popped in my mind the night I found out that Monte Kiffin had been hired as the new Defensive Coordinator. And I wasn't alone either.
Bruce Carter is a Tar Heel. My name is Tarheel Paul. So I completely admit that picking Bruce Carter as my breakout player of the year can be considered somewhat biased with a definite hint of homerism. But as much of a Tar Heel homer as I am, when it comes to our beloved Dallas Cowboys I’m completely able to set all bias aside. The well-respected Rich Gosselin from the Dallas Morning News had very lofty goals for Bruce as well.
[su_quote cite="Rick Gosselin - Dallas Morning News" url="http://www.dallasnews.com/sports/dallas-cowboys/headlines/20130527-gosselin-with-his-size-and-speed-bruce-carter-is-a-perfect-fit-in-monte-kiffin-s-4-3-defense.ece"]“I want to see more of Bruce Carter on the weak side. Monte Kiffin moved him over there for a reason. With his size and speed, he’s a perfect fit for that weak side backer in the Tampa Cover 2 scheme. This is where Derrick Brooks played. The position has cleaned up. He will be put in position to make plays, to make tackles, make interceptions, force fumbles."[/su_quote]
Well we all know how that ended it up working out. And while I’m his biggest fan, I was his biggest critic last year. I could not for the life of me understand why or even how this was happening. Our own writer here at DallasCowboysNation.com did a fantastic piece a month ago trying to put the pieces together as to why Bruce Carter struggled. If you haven’t checked it out yet, be sure to do so. Brian Leatherman - Bruce Carter: What Went Wrong?
So we could talk about why and how he struggled all day but that’s not what I'm doing here. Bruce Carter is my guy in 2014, and as much as I want him to breakout this season, I feel like he NEEDS to be that guy as well.
If this defense is going to make any improvement at all, I feel like - with the injury to Sean Lee - the linebackers could make or break the defense.
I think the defensive line is going to be a lot better than what the popular opinion currently is. It has a nice mixture of talent and depth and will come in waves. I also think the secondary will be much improved with Rod allowing Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr to play more press-man coverage which is what those two guys do best. So if the defensive line is improved and the corner play is improved then, to me, that’s going to make the lives of Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox a lot easier.
So what position group does that leave? The linebackers. And without Sean Lee, Bruce Carter is clearly the most talented player of this group. Now hopefully DeVonte Holloman comes on strong and whoever wins the middle linebacker battle can at least play adequately. But part of the reason my hopes are so high for Bruce Carter this year is because of a little tidbit I heard on The Lunch Break over at the mother ship - DallasCowboys.com.
If you skip ahead to the 36:15 mark of the broadcast, Nick Eatman gives you a sweet little nugget that he got straight from Jason Garrett himself. And this is the biggest reason I think he breaks out. Bruce will not strictly line up on the weak side. He'll basically line up behind the 3 technique on every single play. Which in this case is Henry Melton. So where ever Melton lines up Bruce Carter will be behind him. This will allow him to use his freakish athletic ability to flow from sideline to sideline and make plays since the offensive line has its hands full with Melton. It was done this way for Derrick Brooks in Tampa Bay and Lance Briggs in Chicago. And I believe 100 percent that Bruce Carter has that same ability.
Now why do I have so much faith in Carter? Take a look at what Jerry Jones had to say about Bruce:
[su_quote cite="Brandon George - Dallas Morning News, SportsDayDFW" url="http://cowboysblog.dallasnews.com/2014/02/dallas-cowboys-owner-jerry-jones-confident-lb-bruce-carter-can-still-be-outstanding.html/"]“He’s working at it, though. We saw things, there’s an old adage, if you’ve seen him do it a few times, you know they can do it at least and you go from there,” Jones said. “We know he can do what this defense calls for and be outstanding. We have some real reasons to be excited about him and certainly he’d be the first to say that he had some things that he’d like to take back.
“Overall, he’s got a future here … and that’s a positive. It’s not a condition, he’s going to become more of a pro and more understanding about the kind of commitment and the kind of detail and preparation it takes and he’ll be a lot better for it. He’s got the other stuff that nobody can coach, and that is speed and physical assets.”[/su_quote]
Same thing goes for me. I saw it for four years at North Carolina and we all saw it in 2012.
The only real obstacle that can get in his way, in my opinion, is himself. He seemed to really lose confidence in himself last year, despite racking up 122 tackles. But he has to mature enough to be able to get past that because Rod Marrinelli doesn’t play those games.
[su_quote cite="Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com" url="http://espn.go.com/blog/dallas/cowboys/post/_/id/4728240/marinelli-message-to-carter-its-a-mans-game"]“I don’t do confidence stuff,” said Marinelli, who was promoted to defensive coordinator this offseason. “Get down and play. Get down and play. Here’s your assignment key. We want you to play fast and we want you to take the ball away.”
"Go play," Marinelli said. "It's a man's game, man. Play it the right way. That's what I want. We're going to coach it. We'll coach you hard. Be where you're supposed to be. This is what we expect. And then go."[/su_quote]
But he seems to be getting it with this quote from linebacker coach Matt Eberflus. "It's him getting his eyes on the quarterback and doing a great job of breaking on the ball," Eberflus said, per FOX Sports. "He's doing what we're asking him to do. He knows what he has to do. He's trying to make a step every day to work to get better."
According to Scott Crisp of NBCDFW.COM, he seems motivated. "I definitely have a lot to prove to everybody, especially myself," Carter said. "I want to come out here and just get this thing moving in the right direction."
With all due respect to players like Anthony Hitchens, Will Smith, DeVonte Holloman and Justin Durant, the only thing that is going to keep Bruce Carter from breaking out in 2014 is the man in the mirror.
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.
What Would a Successful Season Mean for Kellen Moore’s Future?
Out of every chess piece moved by the Dallas Cowboys this offseason, the decision to name 30-year old Kellen Moore might be the most interesting one. Not only that, but it could be the one that makes the biggest impact on the team. After all, the Cowboys are ready to go talent wise.
With Kellen Moore taking up a new role, it's intriguing to imagine what a successful season would mean for his future with the Dallas Cowboys. Truth be told, Moore is in a pretty fortunate position to debut as an offensive coordinator. He'll be driving a unit full of talented players with almost no weak links. Last year, it wasn't the lack of quality players lined up that had the offense struggling throughout the season, but the guy in charge.
At first, the philosophy of not needing a #1 wide receiver clearly blew up on the Cowboys face. The passing game in Dallas needed a spark and they didn't find it until they traded a first rounder for Amari Cooper. Cooper's impact on the team was clear right away as he put on impressive performances on a weekly basis.
But even when Cooper was at his best, the offense still presented relevant struggles. Despite getting more first downs, the Cowboys still had trouble scoring touchdowns when in the red zone and kept leaving points on the field.
Although he's been a controversial conversation among members of Cowboys Nation, there are a few reasons to be excited about what Kellen Moore can bring to the table as a young offensive coordinator. Ever since he declared for the NFL Draft out of Boise State, where he ran a very complex offense on his way to become the QB with most wins in NCAA history, he was seen by many as an extremely smart prospect. Many expected him to have a mediocre career as a player, but saw him as a potential coach down the line.
Now it's his chance to prove the world just how smart he is and his potential as a coach. He will not only be proving it to the Cowboys organization, but all of the NFL and college football teams. Don't forget what NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah mentioned a few months ago.
I've mentioned this before- Kellen Moore is a rising star and he'll be in the mix for HC gigs (CFB or NFL) in the near future. https://t.co/hLjOb4HAUc
With a great group of talent at his disposal, it's fair to imagine Moore having a pretty successful "rookie" season at a major coaching position. If he indeed manages to turn heads with the Dallas Cowboys offense in 2019, what does that mean for his future?
In a league that's turning to the young offensive-minded coaches thanks to guys like Sean McVay, is it possible one team decides to pull the trigger and make him an offer for a head coaching gig? It certainly would seem premature, but it's still a possibility in the NFL, where teams have become increasingly impatient with their coaches.
I definitely wouldn't be surprised if next offseason, we're concerned about another team (college or NFL) trying to snatch Moore off the Cowboys. I insist in pointing out this would be a premature decision if it does happen, since Moore has very little experience, but looking at the trend in the NFL it certainly could happen.
This might be the most important year in Kellen Moore's young career. For now, let's hope he does a good job leading Dak Prescott in his fourth year as a professional player and an offense that has a solid OL and a pretty good set of skill players.
Connor Williams Working as Left Tackle in Cowboys Practice
Second-year guard Connor Williams has been working as the Cowboys' left tackle during practice this week. While this isn't the plan for him in 2019, it does provide a glimpse into potential uses for Williams down the road and how Dallas might handle future offensive line moves.
Using Connor at LT this week has been a matter of necessity. The top players on that depth chart, Tyron Smith and Cameron Fleming, were not participating for other reasons.
With Tyron Smith getting a vet day and Cam Fleming not practicing because of a bruised shin, Connor Williams worked at left tackle Wednesday. He said it was his first left tackle snaps since he was at Texas. He said it felt like riding a bike after a little bit.
Indeed, Williams spent three years at left tackle in college. It was the last position he'd played before being drafted in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft by Dallas, who immediately moved him to guard.
Connor started 10 of 13 games at guard last season. He played mostly on the left side, starting Weeks 1-9, before getting injured. Xavier Su'a-Filo played well enough in his absence that Williams didn't get the starting job back when he was healthy. However, when Zack Martin had to miss a few games at the end of the year, Connor started a right guard for those two weeks.
When Martin returned for the playoffs, Williams was back as the starting left guard in both postseason games.
Tyron Smith and Cam Fleming will be your starter and backup at left tackle next year. But for 2020 and beyond, Connor Williams' ability to play tackle creates some interesting possibilities.
La'el Collins will be an unrestricted free agent next year. Fleming will still have one year left on his deal and Dallas just spent a third-round pick on the versatile Connor McGovern. Throw in that Williams can play some tackle, and it seems as if they're covering bases for Collins eventual departure.
We could very well see a starting lineup in 2020 with McGovern at LG and Williams at RT. Another possibility is that Fleming starts at RT and Williams stays at guard, but can be moved to tackle if needed.
If nothing else, it's nice to know that Dallas has options. We may never see Connor Williams play a regular season snap at left tackle, but versatility is a great asset. It can greatly increase a player's value, and give his team some leverage and flexibility in roster management.
For the Cowboys, it does make you wonder what the future holds for the offensive line.
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