- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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IRVING, Texas – Five-year veteran inside linebacker Dan Connor is participating in rookie camp to make up for lost time after missing offseason workouts while recovering from shoulder surgery.
But Connor, a former Carolina Panthers starter who signed a two-year, $6.5 million deal, doesn’t feel like he’s at a disadvantage in his competition with Bruce Carter to start next to Sean Lee. Connor, who played with Lee at Penn State, is right where he wants to be when as far as learning Rob Ryan’s complicated scheme goes.
“I don’t feel behind at all,” Connor said. “I feel great and my health is great. I put in a lot of offseason study time. It’s probably the most offseason study time I’ve put in since my rookie year, and it’s helped. It helped today. I was able to play a couple of positions and run the defense. I feel good. I feel right on pace.”
Connor attended all the workouts and meetings during OTAs and minicamp. He wasn’t able to participate, but he took advantage of the mental reps. A major chunk of his offseason free time was spent making certain his head wouldn’t be spinning when training camp started.
“I’ve had a lot of time to study,” Connor said. “I mean, that’s all you can do, and it translated pretty good (this week). I felt good out there. I can run the thing and play some Mike (middle) and play some Will (weak side) and feel comfortable. All the classroom worked has helped a little more than I even thought.”
It isn’t as if Carter has proven that he’s mastered Ryan’s scheme. The speedy second-round pick barely played on defense last season. He spent the first six weeks of the season on the physically unable to perform list due to college knee surgery, and the coaches didn’t trust him enough to give him a significant role the rest of his rookie season.
The Cowboys will count on Carter and Connor this season. The question is how those snaps will be split.
As far as Connor is concerned, he’s ready to compete despite missing the entire offseason program.
“I knew the more I studied and the more I really got it down and memorized it, when I get on the field, I’m not thinking, I’m playing,” said Connor, who played in a 4-3 scheme with the Panthers. “That’s when I play my best. You can’t be out there tentative, so I really dedicated myself to studying, and that’s helped.”