Cowboysâ€™ Carter back to playing at full strength
IRVING, Texas-- For many rookies, their first season in the NFL is all about getting adjusted to the rigors of day-to-day life in the league, whether it's work days that often start before 7 AM and end about 10 hours later, the fact that football is now a job or other aspects of life as a rookie, year one is all one big acclimation process for rookies.
However, for second-year Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter, a second-round pick of America's Team in the 2011 NFL Draft who suffered a serious knee injury as a senior at North Carolina, that acclimation process was a bit different. He continued recovering from that injury for much of his rookie season, at least until Oct. 29, 2011 when Dallas added him to its 53-man roster after the club cut running back Tashard Choice.
All told, the ex-Tar Heel appeared in 10 games last season, seeing time at both middle linebacker and on special teams and finished the year with eight tackles. So far in 2012, he has already seen fairly extensive reps in each of Dallas' first two games and already has 15 tackles to his credit, something he credits to being healthy and fully knowing the ins and outs of Cowboy defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's system.
"It definitely feels good, especially from [where I was at this time] last year. I didn't know much. I wasn't playing. I didn't feel like I was in the loop you could say but this year's totally different," Carter said. "Things are going good. I just want to keep working, getting better and never get complacent with where I'm at. I'm just trying to do my job and just try to help the team by doing whatever I've got to do to help them win."
One big reason for his recent success is that since he no longer feels any pain in his knee or has to worry about it flaring up again, he is now able to focus on doing what he does best, making plays as part of what is a very talented Cowboy linebacking corps. "I'm at a point where I'm just playing football, just having fun. I don't really think about my knee at all. I'm good. I'm out here just playing," he said.
Carter realizes how fortunate he is to be surrounded by so many talented fellow linebackers, guys like Dan Connor, Anthony Spencer and perennial All-Pro DeMarcus Ware. But there's one fellow member of the linebacking corps who has helped make his transition to being in the NFL as seamless as possible.
"Sean Lee, I look up to him a lot-his motor and just how he plays. I don't want to be that missing part. I want everything to be flowing, everybody to be on the same level," he said. "[I learned] to start that motor, to always run to the ball and always do things right, never take a shortcut. Now it's paying off. We just want to continue to work and go forward."
Lee admits he's been quite impressed with everything Carter has brought to the field since he was drafted last spring, whether it's been his strong work ethic or unending desire to do what it ever it takes to ensure he keeps improving every single day.
"Bruce has done an unbelievable job. He's a guy who has come in this year with a high sense of urgency and from day one has worked extremely hard," Lee said. "You can see the fruits of his labor out there. He's gotten better all through OTAs, training camp and each game he's continuing to get better. It's a matter of time before he's a great player."
When a player suffers a serious injury like Carter did as a senior at UNC and undergoes a fairly lengthy recovery process as he did last year as an NFL rookie, such an experience can often give that individual a nice, healthy dose of perspective, something this former Carolina standout admits definitely happened with him.
"You don't want to take anything for granted because it can be taken from you in a flash," he said. "So you want to play every play as if it was your last you could say and just go out there, keep playing and help your team as much as you can."
Carter also credits his big leap in year two of his NFL career to something as simple as having his first full off-season as a professional, which allowed him to focus on improving his conditioning and also on completely familiarizing himself with Ryan's defensive playbook.
"It was my conditioning [that I focused on], just getting my legs back underneath me and the other main thing was just learning the playbook in and out. I studied a lot," he said. "I got the total grasp of it. There might be a thing here or there that I can learn a lot better and be more familiar with but that will come. I just want to keep working."