When can Bruce Carter contribute?

IRVING, Texas – After 11 long months, linebacker Bruce Carter finally put on a helmet and a pair of shoulder pads again.

Carter, the Cowboys’ second-round pick, practiced as a professional for the first time Wednesday. He spent the first six weeks of the season on the physically unable to perform list, continuing to rehab from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in North Carolina’s Nov. 20 game against rival North Carolina State.

“I didn’t really get much sleep last night, just ready to get out there and start playing,” Carter said. “Just trying to have fun and get back to football.”

The question now: How long until Carter can contribute to the Cowboys?

They have a three-week window for Carter to practice before the decision must be made to put him on the active roster or the injured reserve. Barring another injury, it’s a no-brainer to create a spot for him on the 53-man roster.

The speedy, 6-foot-3, 246-pound Carter has set realistic goals for his shortened rookie season: becoming an impact player on special teams and earning a role in some of the defensive substitution packages.

Wednesday’s practice, when he worked with the scout-team defense, was the first step. Carter said he felt “110 percent” healthy.

“I was on a six-week program where I was just conditioning and trying to get back to football,” Carter said. “It’s just a matter of transitioning what I know in the books and X’s and O’s on the field.”