Such is the price to pay for a guy who was a star at a high-profile school like Ohio State, was drafted in the first round … and is the son of a guy who played for his head coach.
When Carpenter arrived after the Cowboys chose him in 2006, he was perceived as being then-head coach Bill Parcells' "chosen one." He was expected to make significant contributions right away.
Carpenter struggled for most of his first two years, contributing on special teams and easing into a backup role on defense. He was never without value, but many felt his contributions were not on par with the expectations for a player with his pedigree.
Based on the first week of training camp in San Antonio this summer, it's starting to appear that those who doubted Carpenter can play at the NFL level just might end up being disappointed. Carpenter has been very solid through the first week of camp. He calls the defenses for the second-team defense, and appears headed toward a role as one of the better special teams players on the Dallas roster. On defense, he is around the ball more than ever, has showed vastly improved coverage skills and even made an acrobatic interception after deflecting a pass and twisting around to grab it before it hit the ground.
"Sometimes, there's times when you can have your back against the wall, and that's kind of where I'm at now, so I came out here with something to prove," Carpenter said. "I prepared hard, I'm working hard, and it's up to me to (show) I'm good enough to be out here. I know I am, but I'm going to show everyone else.
"There's a few things I did differently (over the offseason), but I wouldn't say anything dramatic. But I've had a good camp so far, and I'm going to keep riding that, keep working hard every day and hopefully everything continues to go well."
Carpenter acknowledged that at times in his rookie season with the Cowboys, he was a little lost as he made the adjustment from the college game to the NFL. The Cowboys drafted four linebackers (Jason Williams, Victor Butler, Stephen Hodge and Brandon Williams) in April, and although Carpenter just turned 26 years old Saturday, he suddenly is one of the elder statesmen among the Dallas linebackers, and he finds himself sharing some of his wisdom to help his younger teammates.
"Outside of Bradie (James), I'm the inside 'backer that's been here the longest," Carpenter said. "Keith (Brooking) played in this system in Atlanta, so he's very familiar with it, but we've also got a lot of rookies that I'm trying to help get lined up. I'm trying to help those guys — I had a tough rookie year, so I know what it's like, and I'm trying to help those guys out.
"All of those guys have a lot of ability. It's good to see Hodge — he finally got out here, running around. Like I said, all of those guys have a lot of ability. It's just the time to adjust to the speed and the physicality of the game. So they need to just come out here every day, take their lumps and try to get a little bit better every day."
The arrival of the four youngsters puts some pressure on third-year linebacker Justin Rogers, who is one of Carpenter's closest friends on the team. With five linebackers (James, Brooking, DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer and Carpenter) all but guaranteed of roster spots, that leaves Rogers and the four rookies battling veterans Matt Stewart and Steve Octavien for the remaining spots. Dallas fluctuated a year ago between nine and 10 linebackers on the roster last season.
"It's going to be a fight for the last few spots," Carpenter said. "The one thing Justin has on those guys is experience, especially special teams experience. That's something I know he prides himself on, special teams, and with good reason — he's an excellent special teams player, and every team needs guys who are great on special teams. I think that's one place where he definitely has a leg up right now."
Carpenter knows what he's talking about, since he made his mark on special teams while getting his footing with the Dallas defense. Now, however, as he takes on more responsibility on defense, he doesn't anticipate the coaches lightening his load on special teams at all.
"I don't anticipate them doing that at all," he said. "This is the best I've felt, in shape-wise, and if I can play 25 plays a game on special teams and 25 plays a game on defense, that's fine with me."
Carpenter said that one of the keys to being successful in the defense — an adjustment he made, and one that every rookie or free agent hoping to make the team must make — is getting comfortable enough that reactions are done as instant reactions, rather than having to think through everything. Even after being in the NFL for three seasons, and two under head coach Wade Phillips, Carpenter said that is a transition that remains in progress.
"It's almost there," he said. "I wouldn't say it's quite there, because there are so many exotic looks our offense gives now — we've got two great tight ends, three great running backs, so there are a lot of different looks: they can go two tight ends and two running backs, two running backs and one tight end … they have a lot of ways to show us different looks, and with the players we have on offense, that's just going to make us better when we see other teams. There's always something new. It's kind of tough, but that just prepares us for what's ahead in the regular season."
As he prepares for the 2009 season, Carpenter said he is encouraged by the new players on the Dallas defense, which will have as many as five new starters this season: Brooking, defensive end Igor Olshansky, linebacker Anthony Spencer (who, admittedly, played a lot last year), safety Gerald Sensabaugh and either Orlando Scandrick or Mike Jenkins at cornerback.
"Some of those guys have been playing for a while," Carpenter said. "Sensabaugh — he's an unbelievable player. I love having him back there. He's smart, athletic, fast … Then, you look at Brooking — he's been playing, and playing in this system, for a long time and he's been very successful.
"The two guys I'm most excited about, though, are Scandrick and Jenkins. Scandrick's a heck of a competitor, a tough guy who's going to fight his tail off on every play, and Jenkins has a lot of ability, and he's getting better each day. So the group of new guys we've got out there is pretty exciting."
Ready to Disappoint his Doubters
CowboysHQ Top Stories
Cowboys Dez Hairline Fracture: The LatestCowboys receiver Dez Bryant says 'I might' when it comes to playing this weekend, even though the MRI has revealed a hairline fracture of the tibia in his right knee.
5 FishTips: Cowboys Winning Gameplan Review5 FishTips: The Cowboys Winning Gameplan In Review
Dez Bryant's MRI + Jerry's Cowboys Q&AOn Dez Bryant's MRI + Jerry Jones' Cowboys Q&A, thanks to the team owner's notable, confusing Tuesday visit with 105.3 The Fan ...
CowboysHQYesterday at 9:29 AM
Cowboys Rooks Shine Behind Battered O-LineCowboys Rookies Shine Behind Battered O-Line; Surgery Possible For La'el Collins
CowboysHQMonday at 4:58 PM