Carter, Connor Both Start At Linebacker Alongside Lee

OAKLAND -Those hoping to see some sort of indication as to who has the edge at the starting inside linebacker spot during Monday's preseason opener may have been disappointed.

The position battle between newly-acquired Dan Conner and second-year player Bruce Carter had seemed to be a tight one in the first couple weeks of training camp, and many people were anxious to see who would get the starting nod Monday night against the Raiders.

The answer: both of them.

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan threw a curveball by starting Connor at the inside linebacker spot and Carter at outside linebacker in place of the injured Anthony Spencer. Both players played nearly the same amount of snaps. Victor Butler was also thrown into the mix for a number of snaps in the first-team defense as he rotated in for both Carter and Connor. 

One might infer that Connor has a slight edge in the competition because he is the one who started at inside linebacker, the position for which they are competing. However, Ryan has been known to be unpredictable as a defensive coordinator making it difficult to read too much into this. Also, while Connor has been an established player at this position for four years, Carter is still a young player who has seen little NFL action. Perhaps Ryan wanted to get Carter on the field and find out what he could accomplish in a different role for future reference.

Carter responded by making the first defensive tackle for the Cowboys after a four-yard run by Darren McFadden. He did admit, however, that the position change was not something that he was used to.

"I'm probably (more familiar with) the inside," said Carter. "That was something new to me. I was just trying to make a play however I could."

Carter liked the chemistry between the starting linebacker corps. He also did not completely rule out the notion of him playing the role of outside linebacker if it were needed of him in the future. 

"Wherever they need me," Carter said. "It doesn't really matter to me."

Connor assisted on one tackle after a completed pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey. Neither Connor nor Carter player played beyond the first quarter.

Connor also felt good about the effectiveness of the first-string linebackers. Being a new player to the defense after coming over from Carolina, he also talked about the importance of finding that comfort level in the live action of preseason games that you can't get from in practice.

"It felt okay," Connor said. "In preseason games, especially the first one, you always feel a little off balance. It takes some time to settle in. You never really know. I just texted my brother to see how it looked, because you don't always know when you're out there."

Connor joins the Cowboys after four years in Carolina. He had his best season last year with the Panthers, recording 75 tackles and a forced fumble in fifteen games. In March he signed a two-year contract worth $6.5 million.

The Cowboys gambled on Carter in the 2011 draft by selecting him in the second round (40th overall) despite a knee injury that he suffered his senior season at North Carolina. He played less than 50 snaps on defense his rookie season while backing up Bradie James.

The final three preseason games will almost certainly be used to evaluate whether Carter or Connor fits better in the starting lineup. Anthony Spencer is expected to return before the season opener to claim his spot as the outside linebacker opposite DeMarcus Ware.

It is also possible that Connor and Carter are alternated in and out of the lineup during regular season games, but one would think that Ryan, is looking for a greater level of consistency from the starter at the position. 

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