As early as the game against the Kansas City Chiefs last season, I had started to come down hard on Bruce Carter. The 2011 second-round draft pick was seemingly not in sync with what new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin expected from his defense. Carter's failure to execute at a critical moment during that game was one of many missed opportunities that combined to lead the Chiefs to victory that day.
While even superstar players make mistakes throughout a season, Carter continued to make errors that helped to limit his effectiveness on the playing field and soon he found himself being benched in favor of journeyman linebacker Ernie Sims (who is no longer with the team due in part to his own mediocre performance) during the week nine contest with the Minnesota Vikings. For Carter it was the first time in his career that he was benched, and it should have served as an eye-opening moment.
Recently, Bruce Carter address the issues that he was having in adapting to the 4-3 defense that Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli brought to Dallas. Although he was still a linebacker, the change in his role had an impact on how Carter performed on the field. In speaking with Gina Miller of ThatSportsGirl.com, Bruce opened up about the struggles that he experienced during the 2013 season.
"I think that was it for me, just being more comfortable with the system and going from the previous year in the 3-4, playing Mike (inside linebacker), to the outside, playing Will (weakside linebacker), which is kind of like night and day. But in the same sense it’s still playing linebacker. I think for me, just getting more comfortable at that position and knowing my role and just going from there." - Bruce Carter
While we will likely never know if it was a breakdown in how Carter's new responsibilities were being taught by the coaching staff, a failure to take his studies seriously on the part of the player, or simply that the changes were taking him longer than expected to master; one thing is clear. For him to still have a future in Dallas, 2014 is a season where Bruce Carter is going to have to show significant improvement. After all, out of 94 OLB's playing in the 4-3 scheme, Pro Football Focus ranked Carter a dismal 90th.
Still there is faith among the members of the brain-trust that makes personnel decisions in Dallas. While the previously mentioned Ernie Sims is gone, Bruce Carter remains. Still on a rookie contract, he will have the chance to prove that a second season in the 4-3, now under the direction of master teacher Rod Marinelli, is just what he needed.
"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." - Jerry Jones
The Dallas Cowboys owner is confident that his second season in the 4-3 will prove that Carter can be the prototypical Will linebacker that is so vital to the success of the defensive scheme.
"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."
We have seen enough of Bruce Carter to know that the physical ability is there, now we are looking to see if the understanding of the defense is present as well. For the player, his future as a Dallas Cowboy will undoubtedly depend on his ability to prove that he has more than just the talent to get things done. If he can approach the expectations that are set for him, Carter could take his place among the great Dallas linebackers, but if he does not rise to the occasion then Jones & Company will be forced to move on.