Carpenter is a quick learner

IRVING, Tex. - In many ways, the odds are stacked against rookies. That's even more true when the rookies are undrafted free agents, hoping to catch a coach's eye and earn an invitation to training camp, and maybe a spot on a roster.

But perhaps no rookie faces odds as long as quarterback Rudy Carpenter.

After all, Tony Romo is as secure as any starter in the NFL, and the Cowboys traded for backup Jon Kitna and selected Texas A&M's Stephen McGee in the fourth round of the NFL Draft.

But the 6-2, 220-pound free agent from Arizona State said he's not worried yet about beating out McGee for the team's third quarterback spot. Instead, he said the two hit it off during last weekend's rookie mini-camp, and they're helping each other learn the Dallas offense.

"We get along fine — we're becoming friends," Carpenter said. "But I'm not trying to worry about people who might be in front of me — I'm just trying to learn this offense, which is a lot. I need to get some practices under my belt, and try to do what I can do.

While Carpenter insists he's not yet focused on his status in the Cowboys' quarterback hierarchy, he also pointed out that he's not exactly entering the battle without any credentials, and said that while the Dallas offense is complex, his experience at ASU specifically helped him prepare to absorb such a system.

"I got a chance to play for four years in college — I started for four years," he said. "Over those four years, I had three different quarterback coaches, and three different offenses. I think that's part of my strength — I got to where I could pick up new schemes and new offenses pretty fast. But more than anything, I had a lot of experience. That's what I'm trying to use here, trying to use it to perform well.

"To be honest, I think I've done a lot of everything. When I was at Arizona State, a lot of the plays I made were a result of making something happen out of broken down situations. I got sacked a lot, and it was one of those things where I had to make some plays."

Carpenter's status as a free agent might make him the fourth quarterback on the Dallas depth chart, but he was very productive with the Sun Devils. In 47 career games at ASU, Carpenter threw for 10,491, nearly twice the 5,475 yards McGee threw for in just seven fewer games. He also fired 81 touchdown passes, compared to just 35 interceptions.

But while Carpenter was productive and is an accurate passer, he lacks ideal height and arm strength, and fell out of the draft. In the scramble that takes place after the draft every year as teams try to sign undrafted free agents, Carpenter said he had about a half a dozen teams expressing interest before he chose to join the Cowboys.

"I had about five or six teams calling me, showing interest," he said. "But the Cowboys are the team that called the most, and I just felt like, out of all the situations that I had ... I know they drafted somebody at my position, but I thought this would be a decent situation to come in here and compete.

"To be really honest, all of the choices I had were kind of similar to this. Some of the choices I had, teams had five quarterbacks already. It was just one of those situations where I wanted to come in and compete, and I thought this was the best organization to do so, and I felt like as far as the offense goes, it was something I could pick up and do. I was more familiar with this team, I guess, moreso than any other team."

Part of the reason for his familiarity goes all the way back to his childhood, when he grew up in Thousand Oaks, Calif., the former site of the Cowboys' training camp.

"Long before I was born, the Cowboys practiced at Thousand Oaks, at Cal Lutheran University," Carpenter said, "and as I was growing up, they were practicing down in Oxnard, which is about 10 minutes from where I live, so I went down there and watched. I became a Cowboys fan, I guess you could say, and went to a lot of their practices, watched a lot of their practices. Now … there's not a whole lot better than having a star on the side of your helmet."

If playing for Dallas was his ambition, Carpenter acknowledges that one of the biggest challenges he faces — before he can begin worrying about where he stands in relation to McGee — is absorbing the Dallas offense and the terminology used to run it … which, of course, is what he was able to do several times at Arizona State.

"The thing that makes it so hard is that goes by rapid-fire, so fast," Carpenter said. "You get an ‘install sheet,' and there you go. It's time to learn this and do it right away. There's not a lot of time to take your time to learn things slowly and get a feel for it. It's just learn it and bang it out.

"But that's what I did at ASU, and I did OK there, so that's what I'm hoping to do here, too."

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