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Linebacker Carpenter looking to fill any holes in Cowboys' defense

SAN ANTONIO -- Bobby Carpenter is still moving from the inside to the outside of the Dallas Cowboys defense, just like he did as a rookie last season.

On some plays in training camp, Carpenter lines up as an inside linebacker. Then he rushes from the outside, sometimes from a defensive end slot.

"I'm just trying to make sure I'm well-versed at everything," Carpenter said. "I don't want to be a jack of all trades and master of none, but I'd like to be able to think that if they need somebody to go in, I'll be that guy."

Carpenter also doesn't want to be a first-round bust.

The 18th overall pick out of Ohio State last year by the Cowboys, and the son of one of former coach Bill Parcells' past players, Carpenter didn't start a game until the regular-season finale. He then started the playoff game and had five tackles against Seattle.

"At the end of the year, I was ready to play and I was ready to play for him," Carpenter said.

But Parcells decided to retire instead of returning for another season.

The Cowboys hired Wade Phillips, a defensive specialist. The new coach also brought a 3-4 scheme, but one that will play a bit differently than Parcells' version -- and closer to what Carpenter played in college.

"I think that's helped him some," Phillips said. "It's still a new experience for him, but he's doing some good things. It's really kind of like the light's turned on for him. I'm encouraged."

Phillips likes Carpenter's size (6-foot-2, 248 pounds) and speed. That helps the linebacker to stop runners, rush the passer, and cover tight ends and running backs on pass plays.

Soon after Phillips got hired, Carpenter spoke with his new coach and was encouraged by what he heard.

"He said, 'Do a lot of things, let's see what you can do best, get you in there and let you play,"' Carpenter said. "'Then if we have to move you around we will, but we want to get you one solid position where you can excel."'

For now, they are still in the "do a lot of things" mode.

There are a dozen linebackers in training camp, including the four primary starters from last year: Pro Bowl starter DeMarcus Ware, Bradie James, Akin Ayodele and Greg Ellis, although the 10th-year veteran Ellis hasn't been able to practice in his comeback from a torn Achilles' tendon.

"If I spent all my time worrying about that, I probably wouldn't be a very good player," Carpenter said of the crowded position. "I try to take care of what I can and work hard on the field."

With the learning experience of his rookie season behind him, and all the offseason work - two full minicamps and several organized team activities - Carpenter got to the Alamodome feeling more comfortable and confident.

"The offseason was what really helped me... Things have slowed down a lot," he said "It's easier than last year. Coming into training camp, I felt real good, real confident. Things are more instinctive now."

Ayodele said he sees a huge difference in Carpenter's play.

"The defense really fits him," Ayodele said. "He's more knowledgeable. For a young guy, he's taken up a leadership role. He talks a lot. He communicates. You can really see his athletic ability in the inside spot."

Or outside -- wherever Phillips and the Cowboys put him.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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