Two themes have emerged in this offseason for the Dallas Cowboys. Well, at least when it comes to actual on-the-field evaluation. One of them is that Dez Bryant is getting ready to break out in a way that Dallas hasn't seen at receiver since Terrell Owens roamed outside the numbers. The other's name is Bruce.
A few weeks back, I singled out Bruce Carter as the player that I'm most rooting for this summer and to this point, there has been no disappointment. In fact, the theme music I chose for him, Busta Rhymes Dungeon Dragon verse from 'Scenario', couldn't be more fitting. Under the new Monte Kiffin 4-3, Bruce is about to be unleashed on the NFL as the 'next' Derrick Brooks. He's gonna be one of the bad guys in the fairy tale of opposing offenses.
So much so, that earlier this offseason Bruce was named as the Cowboys Secret Superstar by Pro Football Focus. By now, everyone is familiar with PFF's attempt to assign a game grade to each individual player in the league. They are by far our best game-by-game measure at how people play across all respective positions. There are flaws to their methods, but at the very least they do a good job of applying an objective evaluation to a subjective problem.
The Secret Superstar series is an exercise in drawing attention to a player that has yet to hit national consciousness, but has shown the ability to do that if given more opportunity. Surely, we all saw that out of Bruce last year once his ILB mate Sean Lee went down with his injury. Bruce had already won the starting position in a training camp battle with free agent signing Dan Connor. It was evident early that Carter's athleticism was a much better asset than Connor's experience.
In Week 6, for the first time all season Carter played in 100 percent of the snaps against the Batlimore Ravens. He would never take another snap off until his injury against the Redskins in Week 12. Football Outsiders ran a study an found that Bruce Carter didn't miss a single tackle that was in his wheelhouse during the 2012 season. 56 attempts, 56 tackles. Combining that sure-tackling with athleticism to chase down Julio Jones and run down plays from sideline to sideline make him the prototypical weakside linebacker in Kiffin's 4-3.
Even though Carter makes our Secret Superstar list on the strength of a solid second season, the future could be even brighter. He appears headed to his expected pre-draft home at weakside linebacker in a 4-3 and we may get a chance to see his athleticism and skillset on display under ideal conditions. There's still a chance that Carter could see time in the middle, but that job is likely better fit for Lee. Carter's best plays in coverage came in short zones last year and he struggled at times when forced to run down the middle of the field, a necessary requirement to play in the middle in the Tampa-2.
Carter got his hands on two passes last season and both plays should bode well for his role in the new scheme. In Week 2 against the Seattle Seahawks, Carter dropped into coverage, read quarterback Russell Wilson's eyes, and jumped into the passing lane to deflect a slant route to wide receiver Sidney Rice. He had a similar play against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 9 that saw him read the quarterback once again as he deflected a deep crossing route to tight end Tony Gonzalez.
The zone instincts Carter displayed appear to be a perfect match for Kiffin's system that requires the outside linebackers to excel at reading quarterbacks and taking away the short passing game for opposing offenses. When you add in his tackling ability and speed that should be freed up to make plays, Carter could become a three-down force in Dallas for years to come.
- Overall Cumulative Grade: +3.5, Run Defense +3.6, Pass Rush -0.3 Pass Coverage +0.7, Penalty -0.5
- 625 Total Snaps: 285 Run Defense, 33 Pass Rush, 307 Pass Coverage, 88.0% of team defensive snaps
- 0 QB Sacks, 2 QB Hits, 2 QB Hurries, total 4 QB Pressures. 64 Tackles, 6 Assists
- 30 Stops (preventing offense from gaining 40% of necessary yardage on first down, 60% on second down, 100% on third or fourth down)
Last year's secret superstar was Sean Lissemore, so there's no guarantee a breakout is imminent. But I wouldn't bet against a dungeon dragon. Are you?