The 2012 season hasn't gone the way that the Dallas Cowboys had hoped for. The Cowboys currently stand at 3-5 and haven't performed at a level they should be performing at. This team does have their issues, but they are too talented to only have three wins on the season.
One of the highly publicized moves by the Cowboys in the offseason were the upgrades made to the secondary. Jerry Jones flew free agent corneback Brandon Carr down to Dallas and didn't let him leave without signing a contract. In the 2012 NFL Draft, the Cowboys watched their highest rated defensive player fall in front of their eyes. Then the Cowboys made an aggressive move to trade up for talented LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne.
Carr and Claiborne were the type of cornerbacks that needed to brought to the Dallas defense. The secondary had been ignored for a very long time and those type of moves were just necessary. Even though Carr and Claiborne haven't generated a lot of turnovers, their ability to give consistent pass coverage has been a welcomed sight.
The moves to the secondary were huge, but the moves made at inside linebacker basically flew under the radar this offseason. The decision to finally move away from Keith Brooking and Bradie James was a tactical move. Brooking and James are still playing in the NFL, but they just didn't fit into our plans anymore because they were liabilities that didn't possess the speed needed at middle linebacker.
The decision to let Bruce Carter come into training camp as the lead candidate to play opposite Sean Lee was a brilliant move by the Dallas Cowboys. There haven't been too many decisions that have paid off for the Cowboys in 2012, but Carter is definitely one of the highlights of the season.
Dan Connor never really gave Carter a push for the starting job this summer. The various scouting reports coming out of Oxnard, California all described the athleticism that Carter was displaying in the practices. Carter brings another dimension to the Dallas defense. His ability to roam the field and cover tight ends is a major asset for defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
Remember that Carter wasn't a draft pick that many were high on back in 2011. Some questioned the Cowboys drafting another injured player who couldn't contribute right away. Clearly the Cowboys saw another Sean Lee type of value in the second round and they capitalized on the opportunity to grab another player who could offer an impact down the road. The Cowboys had to be patient with Carter, and that patience has truly paid off after just one season.
Carter's missed the first six games of his rookie season last year while he was recovering from a torn ACL. Once he was back on the field, the Cowboys used him sparingly on special teams and on some nickel/dime packages. It was going to be a difficult adjustment for him to make, and Carter admits that he was a little nervous about entering the NFL after missing a lot of time.
"It’s a whole lot different. Last year, I was just kind of nervous coming in to play in my first game in the NFL," Carter said, reflecting on the increased responsibility he has shouldered for the Cowboys within the past year. "This year, I’m really in the mix. The situation is different, with Sean (Lee) being out. I’m trying to take it one play at a time and just study as much as I can and make sure everyone is on the right track."
It's pretty amazing when you think about all of the progress he has made in just his second season in the NFL. He has gone from a sparingly used rookie to the leader of the defense. I expected Carter to make a huge jump in his second season, but he has exceeded the expectations that I had for him entering the season.
Losing Sean Lee was a devastating loss because Lee is one of the best players in all of football. Without Lee next to him, Carter has really stepped up to the plate and become a vocal leader. Carter has become responsible for making all of the defensive calls in the huddle. He is also responsible for making sure everyone is playing their assignments and lined up correctly. That is a lot of responsibility for a 24 year old player to have in just his second season.
Sean Lee has been a big part of Carter's success. Lee and Carter are very close with each other and spend a lot of time breaking down film together. Rowan Kavner's article on the mothership gives us some insight into why Carter was so effective against the Atlanta Falcons.
He studied enough film with linebackers coach Matt Eberflus last week that he could predict what the Falcons would do before a play began. He said it got to the point Sunday night where if he heard the offense make a certain check, he knew a run was coming, and he’d make the corresponding signals to the defensive line.
Carter is a tremendous athlete. We saw that last week against the Falcons when he was all over the field. Carter even ran down Julio Jones, who is one of the fastest players in the league. But when an athlete is beginning to spend more time in the film room and begins to grasp the mental part of the game, then you have the potential making of a fantastic football player.
With Carter putting in the extra work, the results are starting to show on the football field. Lee spoke about Carter's hard working paying off.
"He has taken that next step. His hard work is paying off," Lee said of Carter. "Obviously he’s a talented guy. All that work he put in preparing now is showing on the field. I think it’s matter of time before he’s one of the best linebackers in football. He has the ability to be that. Now it’s just a matter of playing like that every week."
Bruce Carter may only have 46 tackles this season, but his growth, presence and leadership have been one of the few bright spots for the Cowboys this season. It's going to be a joy watching #54 roam the field for the Dallas Cowboys in the future.