Carter gets first-team snaps with Cowboys

IRVING, Texas -- There is a competition between Bruce Carter and Ernie Sims for the starting job at weakside linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys. Carter received first-team snaps during Wednesday's practice, but that doesn't mean he'll start Sunday's game at the New Orleans Saints.

"They both played really well at times, and at other times haven't," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "Bruce came back and played really well last week. Ernie played well before that. He didn't play [well] last week. They need to be more consistent. But Bruce came back and really had a nice game no doubt about it."

Sims started last week's game against the Minnesota Vikings on the base and nickle defenses. Carter's first snaps didn't come until a field-goal attempt late in the first quarter.

Carter did start the second half on the base and the nickle packages, with Sims getting sprinkled in. Carter finished with six tackles against the Vikings; Sims ended with three tackles and several missed tackles, including taking a bad angle in trying to stop quarterback Christian Ponder on a 6-yard touchdown run.

Carter seems to be trying to recover from a bad performance at San Diego, in which he allowed two touchdown receptions.

"It wasn't just San Diego," Kiffin said. "You just make changes cause of that. Ernie had played better and deserved to play. Bruce has really bounced back. They both are great young guys. They really are. I wouldn't have to say that if they weren't. I wouldn't say they are bad guys. But I wouldn't have to say they are great guys either. They are good guys. They play hard."

It seems whoever starts against the Saints will have to deal with running back Darren Sproles and his ability to catch passes out of the backfield that creates problems for defenses. Sproles is third on the team with 37 catches.

Another problem is Jimmy Graham, a tight end who plays like a wide receiver. Graham leads the team in catches (49) and receiving yards (746), and might have a cornerback deal with him over a linebacker.

"A special guy, a good guy, they move him around a lot now too," Kiffin said of Graham. "Him and the running backs, they get the ball a lot. You can say, 'Well, don't they have pretty good receivers?' Yeah. They spread it all over the place. They come out with empty backfield and things like that, so they've started out pretty good."