the year last year, December, so we knew what we were getting at that point with him. It was going to be a long road back for him. We anticipated on draft day he probably starts the season on PUP and then we'll see where he goes from there. We were optimistic he could be a special teams contributor by the end of the year, which is exactly what he was. So he misses training camp, doesn't practice with our team until the middle of the season and then comes in and contributes on teams.
"We still like him a lot. He came back from the injury as well as could be expected. Typically, coming back from those injuries it's a year and a half, two years. Ask anybody who's had an ACL surgery, and they say, 'I didn't feel quite right in Year 1 but felt a lot better in Year 2.' He's coming up on Year 2, so we're excited about getting him in the offseason program, getting him with (strength and conditioning coach) Mike Woicik, making sure he's physically ready and stable and ready to roll, and we're excited to see how he progresses in OTAs and training camp."
Then Garrett is asked if Carter is penciled in as a starter, the assumption being the Cowboys will not re-sign their former starters, free agents James and Brooking?
He tried wiggling out of the question by proclaiming, "No one is penciled in as starters," but relented when challenged with quarterback Tony Romo's status by saying, "He might be penned in ... Romo has a chance, too."
So here is the point: Carter not being ready to immediately start this season would not indicate he's a bust, just as Lee not starting his rookie year was no true indicator, either. When the Cowboys are allowed by the new CBA rules to commence offseason workouts April 16 that means Carter basically will be 16 months removed from his surgery but also 17 months from a full load of practice reps, having to go back to November of 2010 for those.
That's a long time.
While he is physically perfect for the inside linebacker role, his football instincts need to re-fire. Recognition and anticipation is huge in the middle, and those were lacking during his abbreviated rookie season. I was told even toward the end of the season he wasn't yet running like he once did. Injuries take time, especially ACLs, and everyone's timetable is not the same.
Nor is everyone's timetable to achieve success in the NFL. Russell Maryland was the first pick in the 1991 draft. He didn't start for the Cowboys until the 10th game his rookie season. Erik Williams, remember him? As good as he became at offensive tackle, he didn't start fulltime until his second season. Take Leon Lett. He didn't even start a game until the opener of his third season.
We can go on. Darren Woodson didn't become a fulltime starter until his second season. Kevin Smith, another Cowboys' first-round pick, didn't start until the 11th game his rookie season. Alvin Harper not until his ninth game, and then only four more times his rookie year.
Did you realize, while fullback Daryl Johnston started 10 times his rookie year in 1989 for a running back-deficient Cowboys team, he didn't become a fulltime starter until 1991, his third season in the league? My favorite one is this: Ken Norton Jr., a second-round pick in 1988, never really emerged as a quality starting linebacker until 1991, his fourth NFL season. And to think, he went on to a Pro Bowl career and a lucrative free-agent deal from San Francisco in 1994 after the Cowboys had won their back-to-back Super Bowls.
Like I'm saying, patience.
"We are excited about the progress of Bruce Carter," Garrett would say.
But do the Cowboys have to cover themselves at the position just in case Carter isn't ready for fulltime duty? You bet, but probably not with a first-round draft choice or a high-priced free agent. Remember, with James and Brooking being free agents, the inside linebacker spot consists of Lee, Carter, last year's practice squader Orie Lemon and last year's versatile rookie free agent Alex Albright, thought to be more of an outside guy than an insider.
So when the Cowboys do cover themselves, don't hastily jump to conclusions on Carter.
Give the kid a chance.