IRVING, Texas – Rob Ryan has never been shy to predict great things for one of his players, but even the Cowboys defensive coordinator didn’t see this coming from Bruce Carter.
The second-year inside linebacker has played pretty well all season, but he’s emerged as a star since Sean Lee’s season-ending injury.
Carter has been dominant in the last three games, when he’s added the play-calling responsibilities that Lee handled before his injury. Carter has been credited with 28 tackles (five for losses), two passes defensed and one quarterback pressure while making plays from sideline to sideline.
It’s been stunning progress for a second-round pick who played precious few defensive snaps last season, much of which he missed while rehabbing from a knee injury suffered as a college senior, and had to compete with Dan Connor during training camp to earn a starting job.
“I never thought he’d have the ascension that Sean Lee did, but he has,” Ryan said. “I mean, he has. That’s the bottom line. This guy has become a hell of a football player right in front of our eyes this season.
“I wouldn’t have predicted that. Absolutely not. But he is a tremendous football player. He’s playing as fast as his great athleticism allows him to play. He’s smart. He works hard. He’s with (linebackers coach Matt) Eberflus all the time.
“I mean, this guy’s phenomenal. Is he already a great player? Yes, he is, and he’s getting better. It’s just like Sean last season. It’s amazing.”
Carter reminds Ryan a bit of Seth Joyner, who started for Buddy Ryan’s defenses in Philadelphia, because of his outstanding coverage ability.
However, Carter has rare speed for an inside linebacker. He was clocked as a sub-4.4 40 guy at North Carolina before tearing up his knee. Any questions about Carter regaining his speed are long gone, as evidenced by him running down Falcons receiver Julio Jones from behind a couple of weeks ago.
“The sky is the limit for this guy,” Ryan said. “Again, would I have been able to predict that before the season? Absolutely not, but the guy keeps getting better and better each week.”