Position battle: Can Bruce Carter emerge?

OXNARD, Calif. -- This is the best battle for a starting job at Cowboys training camp, at least so far.

Bruce Carter and Dan Connor are splitting the reps evenly at inside linebacker. It’s too early to say which player has the edge, but you get the feeling that the coaches would like to see Carter emerge as the guy who gets the bulk of the playing time.

That’s not a knock on Connor, a four-year veteran who started 19 games over the last two seasons for the Carolina Panthers before signing a two-year, $6.5 million deal to come to Dallas this offseason. It’s just that the Cowboys are enamored by Carter’s potential.

The Cowboys considered Carter, like Sean Lee, a first-round prospect who slid to them in the second round because of a knee injury suffered in college. The Cowboys hope that Carter’s second NFL season comes close to being comparable to what Lee did a year ago.

However, Carter didn’t get near the reps that Lee did as a rookie. Carter spent all of training camp and the first six weeks of the season on the physically unable to perform list and barely got any defensive snaps once he did get activated.

As a result, Carter is essentially a redshirt rookie right now.

“Once I learn the system like second nature, which I’ve already done, I can come out here and just play football,” Carter said. “My speed and my athletic ability will show.”

Added linebackers coach Matt Eberflus: “I really think he’s on the verge of that. He’s starting to react better. He’s quicker. Mike Woicik did a great job with him during the offseason, and he’s got great ability. He’s starting to show it.”

It wasn’t apparent during Wednesday’s practice, the Cowboys’ first in full pads. Carter didn’t make any eye-popping plays and seemed to struggle getting off guards’ blocks. He was in position to stop DeMarco Murray in the backfield once, but Murray froze Carter with a hesitation move before accelerating around the edge.

“I know what I’m capable of doing,” Carter said. “I’ve just got to go out here and work.”

If that work doesn’t pay off, Connor will get the bulk of the playing time.