Bruce Carter: Linebacker rotation is 'weird'

IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys have an interesting linebacker rotation going.

Bruce Carter is paired up with Sean Lee, and Ernie Sims is teamed with Justin Durant.

The biggest name here isn't so much Lee, because he's on the field in the base and nickle packages. But Carter's playing time seems to be split between himself and Sims.

"It is a little weird," Carter said after Friday's practice. "But at the same time when (the coaches) say go in, you got to go in and play, and when you're out you're out, and you have to cheer the defense on."

Carter has struggled in pass coverage this season and was exposed badly in a loss to the San Diego Chargers, when he was benched in the second half for Sims. The next week, the Cowboys opened in a nickle package with Sims and Lee getting the first snaps of the game. Carter later came in and finished with 39 snaps. But Carter was able to get the bulk of the defensive snaps the next two weeks as the starting weakside linebacker, totaling 145 snaps compared to Sims' 36. Though Carter was getting the bulk of the snaps, Durant's groin injury allowed Sims to get more playing time as the strongside linebacker.

But last week in Detroit, Carter saw some reduced playing time, 45 snaps compared to the 35 by Sims.

"When I get in, I'm in and I just try and play the best that I can," Sims said. "I don't really want to look at snap counts and whose playing, and that's when you get your head all messed up. I just try to focus on what I can control."

Coach Jason Garrett called Carter a damn good football player and said his future is still bright, but you have to wonder what the Cowboys are doing with him.

"I don't know to be honest," said Carter, in his third-NFL season. "I just go in. When I play I play, when I'm out I'm out."

There could be a comfort level with Sims, a eight-year veteran, because he's played in this 4-3 defensive alignment before. Carter's speed allows him to cover running backs and tight ends in the flat. But with his struggles in pass coverage at times, the Cowboys might want to minimize his snaps.

"You certainly want to give players a chance to develop, and we have to make sure we do that," Garrett said. "But it's also a competitive situation, and no one's entitled to any job. Bruce has done some good things for us. He really has. I think he's getting better in this scheme. I think he's understanding it more and more. I think he's playing faster and faster, but Ernie Sims deserves an opportunity to play, and he's going to be a part of what we're doing on defense, and certainly in the kicking game as well."