It's hard to find a silver lining in the Cowboys' season so far when the team is sitting with a 3-5 record, dealing with the loss of multiple players to injury and grossly underperforming. On the injury front, one of those players in particular, Sean Lee, was a major blow and loss for this defense that left the Cowboys in a sea of doubt and uncertainty in how to replace him.
That's where Bruce Carter not only enters the picture but he brings it into focus. Carter has not only stepped up in a big way for this defense, but we are actually witnessing the performance of a rare athlete. In the past two games, Carter has recorded 12 solo tackles and, at times, looks like the best defensive player on the field along with DeMarcus Ware.
Complicating things even more for the Cowboys regarding inside linebacker depth, Dan Connor has been inactive since the Carolina game with a neck strain and Orie Lemon was placed on season-ending injured reserve. Carter has now taken over the signal-calling duties and is paired up with recent acquisition Ernie Sims at inside linebacker.
So not only has Carter battled back to full health, he's also been thrust into a difficult situation with multiple moving parts and has managed to play at an extremely high level. The most impressive aspect of his game is simply being able to perform at this level without Lee playing alongside him.
For Carter, things have definitely come full circle in a multitude of ways. There were the immediate concerns that began after the Cowboys selected him in the second round of the 2011 draft out of North Carolina. The consensus among draft circles, and certainly with Cowboys' management, was that Carter was a first-round talent had it not been for his ACL injury.
The Cowboys seemed unfazed by Carter's health problems and more intrigued by his pure athletic ability and how they envisioned he would perform as sideline to sideline and be able to cover tight ends and running backs. In order to take on a player like Carter so high in the draft, the virtue of patience would be paramount.
The 2011 campaign could almost be considered a redshirt season, but Carter was able to start playing regular-season games last October mainly as a special teams contributor. 2012 has been a different story for Carter and up until Lee's injury he was flying under the radar as his sidekick. But maybe the spotlight has now found a permanent home and it's fixed on Carter.
The Atlanta game may be considered a coming out party of sorts for Carter and one particular play stands out. It was his ability to catch Julio Jones on a 48-yard catch and run down the sidelines. The sheer speed and athleticism of Carter on that play, coupled with some other outstanding plays, may have cemented Carter's role as a cornerstone of this franchise of what we've seen so far.
Carter excels both as a run defender and a pass defender, he's a fierce tackler and now he's getting experience as a signal-caller with big responsibilities. The key for Carter is his continued comfort, growth and playmaking ability as a defender for this defense. Along with Lee, the inside linebacker position seems set for the unforeseeable future and that's a major positive for this franchise.
From the time of his selection in the draft, to the question marks surrounding that selection, things have definitely come full circle for Bruce Carter. For the Cowboys, turning around their season is the main focal point right now. But recognizing the growth and development of a player like Carter has to be comforting as well as satisfying.
Even if it meant waiting an extra year.