OXNARD, Calif. – It isn’t an enjoyable experience to be one of the NFL’s biggest disappointments, so Bruce Carter didn’t smile much last season.
The Dallas Cowboys switching to the 4-3 was expected to benefit Carter as much as anybody, as his speed and athleticism seemingly made him a perfect fit to play weakside linebacker in the scheme. Instead, Carter often looked lost and hesitant, playing so poorly that he was benched on multiple occasions for journeyman Ernie Sims.
But Carter has a grin on his face again during training camp.
“I’ve just got to go out there and play my game,” Carter said. “I think when I played my bad games, I think I kind of let that get into my head a little bit and it kind of frustrated me and took me out of how I was and the fun out of football.
“I got that back and I had to get that back. I’m out here having fun with all the young guys. Just go out here and have fun and let everything else handle itself.”
The fact that Carter made precious few impact plays wasn’t the most bothersome thing about his 2013 campaign. His competitive character was questioned on at least two occasions when he gave poor effort in losses.
Carter got benched after he quit on a touchdown pass to San Diego’s Danny Woodhead, slowing into a jog after the scatback got a couple of steps on him on a wheel route, the second time Woodhead beat Carter for a score that afternoon. Carter appeared to be avoiding contact on an all-run touchdown drive by the New Orleans Saints late in the Cowboys’ blowout loss at the Superdome.
“In the NFL, you go through your highs and your lows,” Carter said. “I think that’s just growth. Every player is going to have to go through it and experience that. But you’ve got to learn from it. I’m going to keep pushing. I’m a fighter. I’m going to just keep going.”
A year ago, the Cowboys considered Carter a piece of the franchise’s foundation. They saw the former second-round pick’s talent during the second half of the 2012 season, when he consistently made plays sideline to sideline while Sean Lee was sidelined after toe surgery.
The Cowboys desperately need to see that version of Carter this season, which Lee will miss due to a knee injury, robbing a talent-starved defense of its best playmaker. If not, it will be easy with the Cowboys to cut ties with Carter, who is in the final season of his rookie contract.
“He’s been a good player for us at different times over the last couple of years,” coach Jason Garrett said of Carter, “and it’s time for him to step up and take advantage of this opportunity and do it on a consistent basis.”