The Dallas Cowboys drafted Bobby Carpenter with the 18th pick overall in the first round to play the right outside linebacker spot opposite last year’s #1 pick, DeMarcus Ware. Meanwhile, 1998 first round pick Greg Ellis has been publically begging to be traded now that the team has shifted to a 3-4 defense, seemingly making the somewhat small defensive end dispensible.
Halfway through training camp, Bobby Carpenter is still a man without a position. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If anything, the Cowboys’ first-round pick is giving head coach Bill Parcells more options at a somewhat fluid linebacker position.
Carpenter was expected to compete with Al Singleton for the starting job at left outside linebacker, opposite second-year veteran DeMarcus Ware, when the Cowboys selected him with the 18th overall pick in April’s NFL Draft. He rotated there in the June mini-camp. “As one of the leaders on the team it’s up to me to really understand his role,” fourth-year inside linebacker Bradie James said. “What we want him to do is contribute as much as possible, whether it be starting or on special teams.”
But Carpenter’s role is presently undefined. He has been a rolling stone here on the River Ridge Complex practice fields, first shifting to inside linebacker when the defense showed nickel early in camp, then to the second unit ahead of Scott Shanle in the base 3-4 scheme by last Saturday’s scrimmage. “We’ve kind of moved him around a little bit,” Parcells said of Carpenter, who played outside and inside at Ohio State. “I don’t like to do that with rookies, but he seems to be able to handle it.”
Carpenter flourished inside during the scrimmage, recording three sacks and several tackles. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said Carpenter looks “good” inside. “He’s a really good athlete,” Zimmer said. “We’ve got to get him a little more physical at the point of attack. He’s a productive guy. Now we’ve got to get him doing things the way we want it done.”
Meanwhile, ninth-year veteran Greg Ellis is settling into Carpenter’s initial left outside linebacker spot. The Cowboys want to see if Ellis, a career 4-3 defensive end, can play effectively without his hand on the ground. Ellis had two sacks and a pass deflection in the scrimmage and has worked with the first team ahead of Singleton the past few days. Zimmer said Carpenter’s current shift inside has nothing to do with Ellis’ emergence.
Parcells says he hasn’t found a permanent home for Ellis or Carpenter. He’s just “trying to figure out all of the combinations that might work, and then pick out the best one.”
Carpenter will have a tough time cracking the starting lineup at any of the four linebacker spots. Ware is entrenched on the right side, as are James and probably Ayodele on the inside. And if Ellis can prove he can go “front and back” at outside linebacker – Parcells’ way of saying he must rush and drop into coverage – Carpenter’s primary role as a rookie could be as a solid backup.
That’s a good problem to have, though. The 3-4 defense requires big, athletic linebackers capable of multiple tasks. Carpenter is trying to prove he can play a couple of different positions, much like second-year veteran Kevin Burnett, who is returning from the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee he suffered in practice last December.
Asked about Carpenter’s progress in camp, Parcells has called his first-round pick “smart” on multiple occasions – a term he doesn’t often bestow upon rookies. The Cowboys are trying to be smart with Carpenter, too, by finding the best role for him while integrating players like Ellis into new positions. Carpenter’s versatility could be his biggest asset this season.
If your disgruntled backup lineman becomes a dominating starting linebacker and forces a 1st round pick who’s exceeding expectations into a backup role in the most important position in your defensive scheme, that is indeed a nice problem to have. Very nice indeed.
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