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Looking Back: Bruce Carter's Path To The Dallas Cowboys

Riding a fast-rising upwards trajectory, Bruce Carter is poised to make his mark on the Dallas Cowboys.

Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

It's good to know where you came from.

If you've been a consistent reader of my articles, you know I make no secret of the fact that while I root for the laundry, I also have some players I like more than others. Since they joined the starting lineups in 2006 and 2010 respectively, Tony Romo and Dez Bryant have stood atop that mountain. Before Romo it was Terry Glenn and Roy Williams and before them it was Emmitt Smith.

I thought Sean Lee was ascending to that status, but over the last year I found myself rooting more and more for his ILB counterpart, Bruce Carter. I've predicted some lofty achievements for Carter in Monte Kiffin's 4-3 scheme; based on some familiarity with how he used Derrick Brooks back in the Tampa Bay days. In addition to that, I think that Carter is an excellent pass rusher and I wouldn't be surprised to see him notch a handful of sacks, even though in previous iterations that wasn't something that Kiffin's linebackers did regularly.

Theoretically, the Tampa 2 defense could mask the parts of Carter's game that haven't been top notch, his ability to cover downfield and reacting to plays instinctually. With underneath zone responsibilities and plays being funneled towards the weakside linebacker, Carter's athleticism, speed and power could make him a stat monster in 2013; especially when you consider that Football Outsiders tracked him as not missing a single tackle in 2012.

I figured in this lull before the action starts in earnest in July, it would be a nice exercise to look back at Carter's journey to this position, standing at the precipice of greatness.

Pre-Draft Hype

Carter was slated to be a Top 15 pick in the 2011 draft entering his senior season at North Carolina. He was one of the few stud players that escaped the suspensions and punishments for a laundry list of dirty deeds in Chapel Hill during his time there. On the field, he was ranked as high as the 6th best prospect going into 2010 by Carter had elite measurables, clocking a sub-4.40 forty-yard dash and was mentioned in the same breath as Broncos stud linebacker Von Miller.

Carter's December 2010 knee injury would drop his stock down into the second-third round range, but pre-draft workouts led the Cowboys to believe they could reap some rewards from him during his rookie season, and for the second year in a row, they drafted a second-round linebacker with first-round skills and an injury history.

Here's a look at a gametape mashup from Carter's senior year opener vs LSU. The Tar Heels had 13 players suspended for the game.

In this mashup, Carter makes plays all over the field against Virginia Tech. Unfortunately the producer doesn't highlight #54 pre-play, so you might have to rewind the plays to see where Carter starts from. This reel only focuses on his positives, but you can see his abilities.

Here's Carter, post-injury, at the 2011 Scouting Combine. He talks about what could have been with the Heels defense and his penchant for blocking kicks, which we've already gotten a taste for in Dallas.


Carter was slow to come around for the Dallas Cowboys as a rookie. He wasn't available for camp activities and started the season on the PUP list, where he would remain until midseason. When he did finally suit up for the first time, it was only as a special teams player for the most part. Per his custom at UNC where he had eight of them, Carter notched a blocked punt late in the Week 16 game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Per Pro Football Focus, Carter started of 2012 with extremely solid run defense before picking up his pass defense once Sean Lee went down with his toe injury. The PFF editors were impressed with Carter's game; enough so that they named him Dallas' 2013 Secret Superstar, an honor we covered earlier in the month.

Dallas selected Carter with the 40th pick in the 2011 draft. As covered in my "First Look" article, Cowboys fans were also intrigued with the possibility of trading down, or selecting CB Brandon Harris (Houston), G Ben Ijalana (Indianapolis) or DT Kenrick Ellis (NY Jets). Carter and Ellis are the only ones that are currently starters, and Carter is the only one with extensive starting experience.

What about linebackers selected around Carter in 2011? Akeem Ayers went to Tennessee one pick prior and has started every game for the Titans over the last two seasons. I'm sure their happy.

After Carter, no other linebacker was selected until San Diego plucked Jonas Mouton at 61. Dontay Moch (66-Cincy), Nate Irving (67-Denver), and Kelvin Shepard (68-Buffalo) followed. Out of that group, only Sheppard has gotten any real run, with mixed results in Buffalo. Linebackers selected in the fourth round or later in 2011 that are getting playing time include Tampa's Mason Foster, Atlanta's Akeem Dent, Tennessee's Colin McCarthy and most notably Seattle's KJ Wright. Wright and Ayers would probably be the only names Cowboys fans would run "what if" scenarios for; at least at this point in everyone's careers.

Carter didn't start out as a linebacker. He was actually a three-position player in high school, but none of them were as a backer. In Havelock, North Carolina, Carter was a quarterback, running back and a safety, and was recruited to UNC as's 33rd rated safety in the country.


Here's another look at Bruce Carter's metrics from 2012, per Pro Football Focus.

  • 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)

It's important to remember, that just because someone takes on extra snaps, doesn't mean that you can do a simple one-to-one projection. Even if they had stuck to the same scheme, 1200 snaps wouldn't necessarily equate to 60 stops. On top of that, the responsibilities of the scheme will make Carter the man in charge of limiting the offense to short gains, which is the design of the entire defense.

As I stated before, I'm a firm believer that Carter is getting ready to take control of this defense. I figured everyone should have a clear picture of where it started from so they can speak intelligently when outsiders talk about he came out of nowhere.


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