EXCLUSIVE: Carter, Watkins friendly rivals

SAN ANTONIO - There are times when it can be hard for players to form off-field friendships when they're competing for the same job.

New Dallas safety Jerome Carter, however, finds himself in the unique position of competing for a job against one of his best friends.

After playing three seasons with in St. Louis, the Rams didn't re-sign him. Carter said that while his old friend didn't lure him to Dallas, the fact that he had a chance to reunite with former teammate Pat Watkins was an added benefit to accepting the Cowboys' offer. Carter and Watkins played side-by-side in the secondary at Florida State, but their friendship extends even further back than their college years.

"That was just a bonus having Pat here, (because) we already had a chemistry," Carter said. "Me and Pat — we were friends coming out of high school. Our schools weren't rival schools, but when we played each other it was a big, big game."

The two remained friends through their years together at FSU, and since they both departed for the NFL in 2006. When he became a free agent this offseason, Carter said he had several suitors, and the fact that Dallas had expressed interest in him during last season helped sway him toward signing with the Cowboys.

"I had a good little bit" of options, he said. "The thing with me is that I came here during the (2008) regular season, and they wanted me when I came in October and worked out for them, but I couldn't get a roster spot at the time. But they kept in touch with my agent, and when the time came, they called me and I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to join a good defense, and I thought I could play in it and fit real good in it."

So now with the Cowboys, Carter is back in the same secondary as his longtime friend. The reunion has been enjoyable for both, but it has come with the understanding that they might be competing with each other for the same job.

"Right now, both of us are going with the second team," Carter said. "It is what it is. I just have to go out and continue to do what I do and be myself, and I tell him to be himself. That's all we can do. We still talk and work out together, and at the end of the day, it is what it is. We're good friends, but I've got a family to feed and he's got a family to feed. I'm going to come out here and work hard — no knock to him — and I'm going to make him better and he's going to make me better, so we don't look at it as no friction between me and him.

"Sometimes, we're on the field together, because he can play the free and the strong, and then there's opportunities where he'll play free and I'll play strong, or he'll play strong and I'll play free.

"I can play both. I've got a strong safety body, but I can play free — I can come out of my breaks good. He kills me with that range, though — I can't do nothing with that range he has. I've got good speed, but I don't have that range like he has. He's got that height on me, too, and he's got great range."

Carter said that while Watkins has a distinct advantage in terms of range and size (the 6-5, 215-pound Watkins towers over the 5-11, 219-pound Carter) and experience with the Dallas defense, his own versatility, which allows him to play both safety spots and contribute on special teams, might well be the key to earning a roster spot.

"When I first signed here, they were talking about special teams, and I told them up front (that) I started a couple of times when I was in St. Louis my rookie year, my second year and my third year, and I played special teams while I was doing that, so special teams ain't nothing to me. I don't have a problem playing special teams. I'm going to go out and give it my all on special teams, just like I would on defense. That's all I can do.

"Personally, I talked to them after OTAs and mini-camp, and asked them what I need to work on, and they couldn't tell me nothing negative about my game. They said they were happy about how I came in and picked up the system so fast, and things like that, so I've just got to try to continue to work hard. I don't try to let it mess with me too much — I just come out and work hard and do what I can do."

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