IRVING, Texas – Speculation about middle linebacker – or the lack thereof – has dominated Cowboys conversation since Sean Lee tore his ACL in Organized Team Activities last week.
However dire the situation might be, it doesn't seem the team is willing to do too much shuffling to address the position, as they opted to keep Bruce Carter at the weak side linebacker spot into the second week of OTAs.
Carter is one of the longest-tenured linebackers on the team, and he has spent more time with the Cowboys than anyone other than Lee. He also played and excelled in a middle linebacker role in spot duty when the Cowboys played in a 3-4 defense.
Photos from Monday's OTA practice at Valley Ranch.
For all of those reasons, many considered Carter a logical replacement for Lee in the middle. But to hear it from Cowboys coaches, the plan is to allow him to further develop on the weak side.
"I just think when you start moving a guy around, that's when you really slow him in his progress," said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. "So he's going to get into the Will 'backer position, and just really learn it – do the same things every day."
Carter struggled with the role during the Cowboys' 2013 season – particularly in pass coverage. Marinelli said another year in the system should allow him to play more instinctively and utilize his athleticism.
"Once you really get it, you play fast. So that's our goal right now," he said.
Dez Deal Dealings
Dez Bryant's looming contract situation was once again the subject of discourse on Monday at Valley Ranch. That's not surprising, considering it was just last Friday that Cowboys executive vice president called it "a real possibility" that the team could extend their star wide receiver before or during the 2014 season.
For his part, Bryant did his best to downplay the talk. He made headlines last week when he said he was deserving of an extension. Since then, however, he has opted to let his play do the talking.
"I love this game and I always have. As long as I keep doing what I'm doing, that stuff will handle itself," he said.
His play has apparently been doing plenty of talking recently – even during the offseason. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett has been watching Bryant make highlight reel plays for nearly five years now, but he said Monday Bryant continues to impress him – and in more ways than one.
"We were in a special teams period in the middle of practice. It's an eight-minute period, and most of the guys are involved in that period, and some of the veteran guys are over with their coaches," Garrett said. "And I couldn't help it, but I'm watching the special teams period and I see No. 88 walking over to the JUGS. He's over there by himself with a couple of managers hammering footballs at him, catching balls. I told our film guy 'Film that,' and I showed our team that in the team meeting."
Bryant said he'd be thrilled if the extension came before the season, but he's content to see what how it plays out.
"If that was to happen, that'd be great. But I'm going to go out there and perform at a high level, because that's how I work. It will take care of itself," he said.
Judging by Bryant's practice habits, Garrett apparently agrees with the assessment.
"Any contract concerns don't show up on the practice field, he's trying to be the best player he can be," he said. [embedded_ad]
Murray's New LineYou'd be hard pressed to get DeMarco Murray to admit a preference for play calling – he said Monday he didn't care if the Cowboys ran or threw, so long as they won. It seems evident Murray is pleased with the latest piece of the team's new-look offensive line, though. The selection of Zack Martin at No. 16 overall last month gives Murray three first-round draft picks to run behind, and he appears to be enjoying it.
"I think it starts with being physical and letting those guys go downhill and not pass protect so much. I think that sets the physical presence of this team and the game," he said. "The offensive line, like I said before, great group – those guys work extremely hard with (Bill) Callahan and Coach Frank (Pollack). The young guy has been in there for a few days, and he's done well so far."
One of the highlights of last season was the Cowboys' improvement in the ground game during the second half of the season. Murray said he was hopeful he and the offensive line earned a chance to continue that success going forward.
"I definitely think there were some games where we could have done better running the ball," he said. "There's always room for improvement, so the times when we had success, I think everybody was doing their job – the receivers were blocking downfield, the line was opening huge holes and Dunbar and I were running well. It's all about being on the same page."