Commentary

Bruce Carter tackles responsibility

Cowboys' second-year LB holds his own anchoring defense with Sean Lee out

Updated: November 7, 2012, 1:17 AM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- When the Dallas Cowboys lost Sean Lee for the season with a toe injury, questions were raised again about inside linebacker Bruce Carter.

[+] EnlargeBruce Carter
Tim Heitman/US PresswireBruce Carter has recorded 12 solo tackles in the past two games.
After watching Carter get credit for 13 solo tackles the past two games, there shouldn't be any more issues regarding his ability to become one of the leaders for the Cowboys' defense.

Carter has taken over the signal-calling duties with Lee out. He has been paired up with Orie Lemon, Dan Connor and Ernie Sims at inside linebacker.

"Obviously, Sean Lee has been the quarterback of our defense, and did such a great job for us, was playing about as well as any linebacker in the league," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "And not only was he playing so well, he also was the guy who was in control of the communication, the calls, the adjustments, and Bruce had to take on more of that responsibility. And what was most impressive about his performance the past couple of weeks without Sean being here is the fact that he hasn't really slowed down his play."

Concerns over Carter began when the Cowboys selected him in the second round out of North Carolina in 2011. His draft stock fell because of surgery to his ACL.

The Cowboys weren't scared off by Carter's health problems because the team had faith he had the athletic ability to make tackles on the move and cover tight ends and running backs when he recovered.

"I knew I was going to come back, there was no doubt in my mind," Carter said of returning from surgery.

But 2011 was a struggle. He didn't play the entire preseason and wasn't active in a regular-season game until October. The Cowboys had Keith Brooking in front of Carter, but change was coming.

[+] EnlargeBruce Carter, Sean Lee
Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT/Getty ImagesSean Lee and Bruce Carter remain in constant communication despite Lee's injury.
Lee, however, got all the publicity. He opened this season with 10 solo tackles at the New York Giants. In Week 4, he picked up 14 total against the Chicago Bears.

Carter, meanwhile, kept going. He didn't mind a lack of publicity because he said Lee deserved it. Lee was nicked up Oct. 21 at Carolina, pushing Carter into the spotlight.

"I didn't really play much [in 2011], that's cool," Carter said. "I wouldn't expect anything different, I'm just trying to work and play my role and all of that stuff will come in due time."

And despite Lee's absence, Carter is in constant communication with him. The two watch film together and go over offensive schemes and how to become better players.

"I just wanted to know what he thinks about how I played and this and that," Carter said. "He thought I played well [last week at Atlanta]. Obviously, there's some things I can do a little bit better at, but overall, he said, he was very excited watching the game at his house. So, anytime he says something like that, it's pretty good."

Moving forward, the few positive thoughts surrounding the Cowboys involve Carter. Nothing against what DeMarcus Ware, Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Anthony Spencer have or haven't done.

Carter has become the focal point of this defense, regardless of what happens the rest of the way.

"The thing about a great defense is you've got to get stops when it counts when it matters and that's something our overall defense has to do in this next game," Carter said. "We made great plays in this last game the whole game, but when it comes down to when it counts, we always come up short and we know it's something we have to do."

Garrett has noticed, especially when Carter made a strong hit on Atlanta Falcons running back Jacquizz Rodgers for a 1-yard loss. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan also mentioned the strong play of Carter.

"He made a number of plays [against Atlanta], both as a run defender and a pass defender, made a lot of tackles in the game to go along with those responsibilities," Garrett said. "And sometimes when you have added responsibilities, mentally you slow down and you slow down and you play a little bit more tentatively. He hasn't done that. He's made a lot of plays."

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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