There is certainly evidence that Cowboys are trying to push Carter, a major disappointment last season, to the bench. Justin Durant worked with the starters at Carter’s weakside linebacker spot during Tuesday’s practice with Rolando McClain at middle linebacker.
But Carter believes the Cowboys are just trying to give themselves insurance options in their linebacker corps by giving different combinations practice time together, particularly with versatile second-year linebacker DeVonte Holloman potentially out for the season with a neck injury, pending a second medical opinion.
“No, I don’t think so,” Carter said when asked whether the team was trying to demote him. “I just think we need depth. Especially Ro, he needs to get his reps at Mike. … So they’re just trying, I guess, to see what the rotations are going to be. I don’t know.”
The rotation featuring McClain in the middle and Durant on the weak side certainly came as no surprise.
Head coach Jason Garrett strongly hinted about it during training camp, when he said that Durant’s most natural position was playing the weak side. The Cowboys clearly traded for the twice-retired McClain with the hope that the 25-year-old former eighth-overall pick would win the starting job at middle linebacker.
It’s also telling that owner and general manager Jerry Jones didn’t mention Carter’s name when discussing the linebacker corps during his Tuesday morning radio appearance.
“I do think that we’ve got a chance to pull one out of our hat with McClain,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan. “Are we looking for it? Yes. Do we wonder about him? Yes. By the same token, an old adage in this league is when somebody has once been a blue player, a blue, not just Cowboys blue, but blue in general, then look for him to be a good player again. Doesn’t mean he’s going to be, but he can be. … I’m pretty pleased with his progress.
“The way Durant’s playing, the way [strongside linebacker Kyle] Wilber is playing – Wilber could be one of the more pleasant surprises because of the level he’s playing at – our linebackers have a chance to I think be better than we expect.”
The coaches have said they will find the best combination of three linebackers for a starting unit. Carter said linebackers coach Matt Eberflus told him that all three spots are open, but the former second-round pick doesn’t seem concerned about losing a starting job despite being benched twice last season.
“For anybody, you’ve just got to go out there and work hard at it, prove to your coaches and especially your teammates that you’re going to be the best guy for that position,” Carter said. “Just keep going out there and battling.”