One of the players who has been most impressive through nine Organized Team Activity practices, and a guy who will be featured in a story on this here website Friday, is second-year linebacker Bruce Carter.
After drafting him in the second round last year, knowing he would miss a lot of 2011 due to injury, the Cowboys hoped Carter would be ready to step into a starting job as early as this year. But they had no way of knowing for sure.
In need of help at the position, not only to add strength in numbers but also to provide solid insurance in case Carter wasn't ready to step up, the Cowboys added four-year veteran Dan Connor, who has started 19 games for Carolina in the past couple years. The plan was for Connor to compete directly with Carter.
Out of these practices due to a shoulder injury, however, Connor has been left to watch Carter shine from the sideline. At some point before the season, they'll still be battling for the top job next to Sean Lee, but no matter who wins, both players will play, according to defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
"Dan Connor is a damn good football player, so he's going to find a role in here too," Ryan said. "Whether it's starting or playing, it doesn't matter to me. We're going to play our best players. We're in a fortunate situation to have three damn good players there."
A college teammate of Connor's at Penn State, Lee isn't worried that the newcomer is falling behind in the defensive installation. However, Lee stressed the importance of cohesion between he and whoever emerges as the Mike linebacker.
"Dan can pick up a defense like that," Lee said. "Dan's extremely smart. He's got unbelievable instincts, so I'm anticipating, when he comes in, he'll pick it up pretty quick. I don't think that'll be an issue. But there's just a communication factor. We're trying to get the D-line set up, we're trying to get calls out, we're trying to work with our secondary, so there's a lot of communication. Sometimes there's checks, you've got to be able to change as the play goes on.
"I think having a guy you can lean on and guys communicating with each other can just make it a lot better."