It was a peculiar train of thought that led me here, but, if you'll oblige me, I'll attempt to retrace it for you.
At first, I was pondering the Cowboys' defensive roster. Who do they have at Safety? Oh, right, Church, Johnson, and veteran Will Allen. No emergency there, though some help would be appreciated. What about the defensive line? There's a frenzied call for help along 'both lines,' so our defensive line must need help, right? Yet, we're starting Ware, Hatcher, Ratliff and Spencer. Lissemore and Crawford aren't half bad as backups either. No emergency. And how about the linebackers? Lee and Carter, followed by a half-time player in Justin Durant. Albright, Wilber and Ernie Sims round out the depth, and I'm still not feeling needy.
Ah, right, there are corners to think about, too. We lost Mike Jenkins. Do we need a fourth corner, now? Who's behind Scandrick? (Sterling Moore, I presume). Should we be worried about that?
The question of the fourth corner is what brought me here. No, I decided, we do not need to worry about the fourth corner. Allow me to explain further.
Monte Kiffin's defense primarily uses two personnel groupings: base personnel and Nickel personnel. The fourth corner is typically on the field in what would be the Dime personnel group (hence the name 'Dime back'), which we may never utilize. Kiffin's defense may allow us to play base personnel when many teams would play Nickel, and Nickel personnel when most teams would play Dime. And Bruce Carter is the key.
There are five eligible receivers on any given offensive play. These five are typically divided among receivers, tight ends, and backs (with third tackles being the other option). This division (the offensive personnel group) is a key influence in the defensive coordinator's choice of his own personnel package (this is why 12 men in the huddle is a penalty for the offense - the defense needs time to adjust). The rule of thumb, traditionally, is to play base defense against two or fewer wide receivers, Nickel against three receivers, Dime against four receivers and Quarter/Dollar against five receivers. The idea behind this is to match each wide receiver with a cornerback - fighting speed with speed (Joker tight ends have really made a mess of things, in this respect).
With this in mind, how can Kiffin get by with just his base and his Nickel? In the traditional Cover 2 Man look, with base personnel, the coverage assignments are as follows: the first corner takes the most dangerous receiver, the second corner - the second most dangerous receiver, the Will takes the most dangerous remaining player, followed by the Mike and the Sam, dependent on the play, taking the final two.
In the Nickel version of Cover 2 Man, the third most dangerous receiver is taken by the Nickel corner (who replaces the Sam) and the Will takes the fourth greatest threat.
The majority of teams will make their transitions into Nickel, Dime and Quarter/Dollar groupings because they cannot trust their Will to play man coverage against speedy receivers. Any one of Joey Ickes' wonderfully illustrated Cover 2 killer route combinations would embarrass most NFL weakside linebackers, especially when executed by shifty slot receivers.
Bruce Carter, however, is a different story. We talk about NFL speed, and with safeties we're saying 4.6, with receivers 4.5, and with corners 4.4, and with all of those guys being in the neighborhood of 210 pounds. Before tearing his ACL, Carter was reported running a 4.39, at an estimated 235 pounds (that's a speed score of 126.5, for those interested). He's also got a 40.5" vertical, for whatever that's worth (it's actually helpful in zone coverage).
This combination of speed and power is extremely rare at the linebacker position, and will allow Kiffin to rely on Carter to defend against opposing receivers and Joker tight ends.
Carter is a player who entered UNC as a quarterback and running back, but switched to defense upon arrival. Six years later, he's shown astounding growth at the position, and grown from a player many expected to fill a role to the potential linchpin of our pass defense.
In 2013, we can expect to be relying on Carter for a heavy dose of man coverage and underneath zones. He has the potential to become a true playmaker if he can show improvement in his ball skills (though if he does get his hands on a pass, I like his chances running it back).
Bruce Carter's speed and overall athleticism are in some ways what allowed the Cowboys to watch Mike Jenkins walk without a second thought, and in many ways are the enablers of Kiffin's entire scheme. I can't wait to see 54 back in action. Forget about the draft; is it August yet?