'Barbie Carpenter,' Inflated

IRVING, Tex. - There was a deflation problem Thursday evening at Texas Stadium. … and I'm talking about more than just Bobby Carpenter's career.

Part of the deflation problem occurred in the tunnel that leads from the field to the locker room. You know that inflatable helmet that the players charge through as they take to the turf? Somehow, workers couldn't get the thing to shrink, and therefore couldn't get it transported up the tunnel. It delayed some officials' arrival on the field for the start of what would be Dallas' 16-10 preseason win over the Vikings. … but heck, it's preseason. Good time to work out the kinks.

Speaking of working out kinks: Bobby Carpenter – he of the deflating stock – is suddenly everybody's whipping post, especially after this week's "Hard Knocks'' episode in which:

A) Offensive linemen addressed the third-year linebacker "Barbie Carpenter."

B) Oh, and they called him a "punk-ass bitch."

C) Said defensive coordinator Brian Stewart: "I was hoping he'd be more physical, especially at the point of attack. But he wasn't." D) Said linebackers coach Reggie Herring: "If he would buy into the physical aspect of the game …"

E) Said owner Jerry Jones: "He's a finesse guy.''

All that was enough to cause me, attending the final preseason game in the old theater's history, to devote my complete focus to the mood, interpersonal exchanges and performance of the former first-round draftee Carpenter.I sense that observers are now so conditioned to believing that Carpenter stinks that they cannot believe their eyes when he gives great effort, reads plays accurately, and plunges nose-first into the point of attack.

And he did all those things on Thursday night. Really. Coming out of the tunnel before the game (while that helmet was still up and inflated), Carpenter was not among the dozen of Cowboys who were casually talking, or joking with the refs, or looking forward to a night off. Carpenter was all game-face – stoic, and certainly not goofing around with teammates. Maybe that's because they think he's a "punk-ass bitch." Or maybe it's because Carpenter entered this thing with an understanding that his career is on the line.And he played like it. He was an every-down inside/middle linebacker. Every down. … all game.

When the Cowboys went to the Nickel on third down, Carpenter remained in the game. In the fourth quarter, when third-stringers like Tearrius George made appearances (in George's case a notable one, despite the apparent Beanie Baby that was trying to block him), Carpenter remained in the game. He was not at all "finesse,'' as he was key to a Dallas run defense that gave Minnesota very little breathing room. He wasn't lacking in intensity, either, something he is often accused of. He got run over once in the flat, but more often than not, he won his wrasslin' matches. His pursuit trailing downfield pass plays was impressive. He was around the ball enough to lead the team with five tackles while also recording a pass deflection.The reasoning for Carpenter's workload was two-fold:

One, Dallas kept most of its first-teamers out of pads, thinning the list of available participants and demanding more of the "scrubs.''

Two, all those coaches with all those awful remarks about him want to see if they might be wrong.For one night, they were.

Quote from Carpenter: "We didn't have any backups and I went in with the mindset that I was going to play the whole time. And I thought I got better and I think it helped me tonight playing the whole game.''

It was exactly a year ago on the NFL calendar when Carpenter lowlighted his already less-than-bright NFL career with a crummy effort in the preseason finale. That performance earmarked him for a season-long spot on Wade Phillips' bench. Quote from Carpenter: "That won't be the case this year. I made sure of that.''

It's actually a little early for such confidence. The Cowboys have a lot of roster work to do, the result of now scrambling for help at the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 receivers. Now, if that's your biggest problem, you are relatively problem-free. But the WR issue means there is a shortage at that position, and it means there are special-teams vacancies. Dallas had to go get Denver's Montre Holland in a trade to fill the Kyle Kosier vacancy, now might turn to Keith Davis (mysteriously released by Miami) to help with teams, and might want to take one more stab at every pass-catcher from Anquan Boldin to Joe Horn.

If you are a member of this roster who is referred to by teammates as "Barbie Carpenter,'' you should probably not feel too secure. But on this night, Bobby at least half-inflated his game – just like that blow-up helmet.

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