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Cowboys Mailbag: January 26, 2012

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MICHAEL LINTEAU NEW YORK, NY: Did I miss the highlight reel for Bruce Carter? Aren't people jumping the gun on his development into a starting NFL linebacker? What are the Cowboys' other options should he need more time to learn?

Nick:The only thing to see is the list of the draft order last year. And when his name is picked 40th overall, and he's no longer injured, yeah it's time to step up. That's what people are saying and hoping for and I think it's warranted. No, there were no highlights. But let's say they drafted a linebacker this year that was all over the place in college, he had big-time hitting ability, great instincts and could run much better than his size and frame indicated and he did it at a school that produces NFL players - AND - he was 100 percent. Even if that was this year, you'd expect him to play right now. So take it from that approach and sure, Carter has to be ready.

Josh: Well, I think it's probably a matter of need. They need Carter to develop into a starter, because they can't move forward with Bradie James or Keith Brooking next to Sean Lee. The defense has to get younger and more athletic. All indications are that Carter can play. Does that mean he'll make the Pro Bowl? No. But at some point, you've got to give the young guys you drafted early a shot. I do think they need to add a veteran inside linebacker, a low-cost guy, even if he's nothing more than a backup and special teams player.

SHAWN CAIN LOS ANGELES, CA: If the Cowboys offensive line was as bad as people say, then how was it even possible for Tony Romo to have a career year?

Nick: Interesting question. My take - although it won't be a popular one for the fans - is that your quarterback, despite his zero Super Bowl rings and his one career playoff win, is indeed an elite quarterback. He can't do it alone, and he's probably not in the same discussion as Brees, Rodgers and Brady, and now both Mannings, but he's right there in the next group. That line wasn't great and he helped them out with his pocket presence. Some might say, Romo is what he is - an 8-8 quarterback this year - but I think he's much better than that. It sounds like the Cowboys aren't going to compromise that anymore, especially with Romo around.

Josh: The same way it was possible for a lot of the league's best quarterbacks to have career years in 2011. Offenses are wide open. Teams just pass so much more, the rules are in the offense's favor and the schemes on that side of the ball have evolved faster in recent years than have the defensive schemes to stop them. The sheer size mismatch between receivers and cornerbacks is so pronounced these days. Romo was very good, but could've been better, no doubt, with improved protection. Just think how good he would be if he wasn't having to do pirouettes in the pocket every other snap.

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