Dallas Cowboys’ LB Anthony Hitchens Makes Bruce Carter Expendable


Nov 10, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) is pressured by Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Bruce Carter (54) during the first half of a game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Rookie LB Anthony Hitchens has been turning some heads as of late. Because of rampant injuries at linebacker, the fourth round pick out of Iowa has spent time at every LB position. As one might expect, Hitch has had some ups and some downs along the way too.

The past couple weeks though, the Dallas Cowboys have been seeing more of those ups and far less of those downs. Still early in his professional career, Hitch has plenty of learning to do, but is it too early to pencil him into the Cowboys’ future? I don’t think so.

Over the past two weeks Anthony Hitchens has registered 14 tackles, 2 QB hits and 2 QB hurries with no missed tackles. Still a bit of liability in coverage, Hitchens has found a way to become a dominant force in the run game. He’s moving sideline to sideline with strong play recognition and growing confidence.

Oct 5, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) is tackled by Dallas Cowboys defensive end Jack Crawford (58) and outside linebacker Anthony Hitchens (59) in the second quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

There’s plenty to like about the young man especially since he was a heavily scrutinized draft pick AND he’s been asked to play all three LB positions only 10 games into his rookie year. When considering all of that, his learning curve is really pretty impressive.

Bruce Carter, on the other hand, has been an extremely slow learner for the Dallas Cowboys. Starting as a reserve linebacker in the 3-4, Bruce Carter has had major difficulties making the switch to the current 4-3. After moving the highly athletic LB down the line, Carter finally found a home at SAM where his snaps are lessened (SAM comes off the field in the nickel defense) and the action is closer to the line. He’s done well in that roll too.

Is that enough to keep Carter a Cowboy beyond this season?

Probably not.

Early this season defensive coordinator made remarks relating to Carter’s “entitlement”. If you want to get in a blue-collar coaches’ doghouse, go ahead and act entitled and see where that gets you.

Even with the increased production and playmaking from Bruce Carter, he’s still considered an underachiever and will likely always be seen as such as long as he’s a Dallas Cowboy.

Consider the situation: Sean Lee will be back and guaranteed a starting spot in 2015. The Cowboys will be trying extremely hard to lock up Rolando McClain to a new deal too, which would also guarantee him a spot. This would leave 1 remaining starting spot at LB and Hitch is looking like he has the ability to compete for that open SAM spot.

Oct 12, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Justin Durant (52) celebrates after a failed fourth down play by the Seattle Seahawks during the fourth quarter of a 26-20 Dallas victory at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Durant is the dark horse in the whole situation. Before falling to season-ending injury, Durant established himself on this team as a playmaker, a leader, and player capable of manning all 3 LB spots. He played so well, the free agent to-be temporarily priced himself right out of the Cowboys’ market.

The bittersweet part of his injury is that it likely dropped his value back down to a manageable sum, making re-signing him a possibility once again.

Exactly what Durant will fetch on the open market remains to be seen but you can bet the Cowboys will be kicking the tires. There is a very good chance Durant will settle for a short-term reasonably priced deal in order to re-prove himself to the league.

The Cowboys would love to have Durant on the roster competing with Anthony Hitchens for that last starting spot, as well as offering depth to an oft-injured core of Lee and McClain.

It’s no secret that defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has been disappointed with Carter’s on-field play as well as his entitled attitude. At this point it would be shocking to see the Cowboys even offer Carter and extension following this season. I also get the impression Carter wouldn’t be interested if one was offered either.

A fresh start for Bruce Carter would probably work in everyone’s best interests (Carter included). Whether the Cowboys re-sign Durant and/or McClain, the writing is on the wall – Carter must go, and Hitchens elevating his game makes it all possible.