Based on how LB Bruce Carter looked in OTAs recently, the Bruce Carter project is appearing to be a success. It’s true that OTAs are players running around in shorts making little contact so it remains to be seen how he plays in games. But it was nice to hear that he looks healthy again.
When the Cowboys drafted Carter with the 40th pick of the second round in 2011, it was an easy pick to criticize. Carter demonstrated outstanding ability while a North Carolina however late in his senior season he tragically tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. A serious injury that can take quite a while to recover from if ever.
The Cowboys certainly could have instead selected a healthy player in the second round. Someone who could help them right away. But the Cowboys were willing to take on a project which meant Carter would spend the 2011 season rehabbing and they would have to wait and see if he could contribute later.
Like the scene in the movie “Seabiscuit” where Smith meets the Colt for the first time. “There was a limp in his walk, a wheezing when he breathed. Smith didn’t pay attention to that. He was looking the horse in the eye.” The Cowboys were looking past Carter’s injury and focused on his eyes where they saw something they liked. A determination to fight back from the injury and be a winner.
No doubt the Cowboys realized that Carter was an exceptional athlete. At Havelock High in Havelock NC, Carter played QB and RB where he was an outstanding performer. As you can see from this video, Carter was clearly the best athlete on the field in high school. As a senior he rushed for 1,063 yards with 15 TDs as a running back and threw for 585 yards and five touchdowns as a quarterback. He ran the 40 in 4.39 seconds and benched 440 pounds. Nothing that big and strong should move that fast. When it comes to Carter’s athletic ability, the word “freakish” comes to mind.
In college, UNC converted Carter to OLB where his athletic ability served him well. On the defensive side of the ball, Carter seemed determined to get his hands on the football every opportunity he got. Bruce had 3 interceptions in college which he returned for 162 yards. On special teams he blocked 7 kicks including three punts in a row, all in the second quarter, in a game against 24th ranked UConn. That set an ACC record! He blocked a total of 5 kicks in 2008 also setting an ACC record. Carter finished his college career with 9.5 sacks showing that he knows how to blitz the QB too. Coverage or blitz? He does both.
Carter is a play maker. He uses his athletic ability to be very disruptive to offenses and special teams. That’s why he was a Butkus finalist in 2010 and projected to be a first round pick in the NFL draft before his untimely and unfortunate knee injury set him back his senior year.
So as the Cowboys OTAs got under way last week, understandably all eyes were on Bruce Carter. The coaches, media, fans and certainly team Jerry/Stephen Jones wanted to know how the Bruce Carter project was progressing. Was he healthy and could he move like he had in college before the injury? Or was this going to be a wasted second round pick that would no doubt be heavily scrutinized by the media even drawing comparisons to LB Bobby Carpenter? Egg on the face of the Dallas leadership once again?
The reaction of coach Ryan and Stephen Jones told us that they were feeling good about how things were going.
It left Ryan saying, “I’m seeing a real player now.” “He’s the guy we thought he was when we drafted him.”
A sigh of relief from the leadership that decided to gamble on this prospect and a reason for optimism next year for the fan base. Now it’s not to imply that Carter has no areas where he needs to improve because he could become a better tackler particularly in space. But seeing him run again sideline to sideline was enough to initiate some smiles around Valley Ranch. Maybe he is ready to play along with LB Sean Lee and form the one-two punch of “Bruce-Lee” next season.
Cowboys stadium may be filled with “Bruuuuuce!” next season as it was in Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill when he made game changing plays.
Back when Bruce learned that the Cowboys were taking a chance on him by drafting him in the 2nd round, he said,
“I have been through a lot, I feel like everything was taken away from me. But I kept fighting, kept battling and I am just happy to be here. I am happy to be a Cowboy.”
Bruce Carter’s battle back to playing football isn’t complete yet but based on the OTAs Bruce, I think Cowboys fans will be happy you are a Cowboy too.