Carpenter, who went 18th overall to America’s Team, spent much of the opening weeks of his debut campaign on the inactive list. But, to his credit, this former Buckeye showed his mettle, never griping about his lack of playing time and instead buckled down, worked even harder by learning his playbook and figuring out how he could best help his team. His perseverance paid huge dividends when late in the season, Carpenter played his way into the Cowboys’ linebacking rotation and also had a huge impact on special teams. Scout caught up with him recently after practice one day at Valley Ranch and here is that conversation.
Since his only one year removed from his days in Columbus, Carpenter’s time as a Buckeye is still fresh in his mind. “It was something special,” he said. “I talk to some of the guys that I played with there and who are now in the NFL a lot. You go to Ohio State to win games and have a successful football career. But when you come down to it, it’s all about the guys you meet and the guys that you’re friends with. I visited a lot of universities and I don’t think there was the closeness and togetherness at those places that there was at Ohio State.”
Not surprisingly, he also offered a ringing endorsement of OSU head coach Jim Tressel. “He’s definitely a quality coach,” Carpenter stated. “He cares about you as an individual and as a person. As a player, that means a lot to you. He’s not just there to win games. He wants to see you graduate and be successful. It’s nice to sit down and talk to him. He’s very goal-oriented and I think he helps players be successful in life.”
Almost from the moment he came to OSU, Carpenter made it known that he would be an inpact player. As a freshman, he played in all 14 games for the Bucks, mainly seeing action as a backup linebacker and on special teams for a squad that finished a perfect 14-0 and won the national championship over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl.
“That was probably my best memory at Ohio State until last year,” he said. “That was a great season, running through and winning 14 games. Going into a game (against Miami) where nobody thought we could win as 13-point underdogs. We showed the national media that Ohio State was back on the map.”
Like every good Buckeye, Carpenter has very strong feelings of the not-so-pleasant variety for Ohio State’s archival Michigan. During Bobby’s time in Columbus, the Bucks went 3-1 against the hated Wolverines. “I won three games against Michigan,” he quipped. “I can tell you that those are probably the three biggest games I was ever a part of there. It was a huge experience for me. My senior year, to go up there and take one from them in the Big House, even though I was injured, was big for me.”
Carpenter also played in four bowl games during his OSU career, something he knows is quite rare in college football. “It is something special,” he stated. “We won four bowl games in a row and I was part of three BCS bowls. I don’t think there are too many guys around here (in Dallas) that I can talk to who have done that. Bradie (James) and Marcus (Spears) are the only other guys on the team who have won a national title (at LSU). They know how important that is to a player.”
Having put the finishing touches on a solid collegiate career, Carpenter turned his thoughts toward the NFL, where he would be following in the footsteps of his father, Rob, who coached him in high school, and had played in the NFL from 1977 to 1986. “I probably figured I would go somewhere in the middle to late first round,” Carpenter said. “But I really wasn’t sure where I would go or to which team. I was kind of hoping I would get a chance to come here (to Dallas). But once I got here, I kind of regretted it a little bit. It was a tough transition for me. I figured it would a team with this style of defense.”
Rob was drafted in the third round by the Houston Oilers back in 1977, but Bobby admits that even though the draft has changed a bit since then, he did get some advice from his dad about what to expect, not just on draft day, but also in his rookie season. “He didn’t really say a lot about the draft experience because it’s changed so much in the last 15 years,” Carpenter relayed. “Now, you have the combine and the whole draft on TV. My dad said that when he was drafted back in 1977, it wasn’t on TV and he got a phone call. It was a lot different. He said I needed to be ready and that it would be tough. He told me my first camp would be rough and that I would get banged up, injured and nicked up. He said I just needed to fight through those things and that I wouldn’t have the success at first that I anticipated. I just needed to keep my nose to the grindstone and things will turn around, but you just have to be ready when they do.”
With the incredible success that the Buckeyes had during his career, Carpenter figured that would continue when he got to the NFL. But that’s when the reality of being an NFL rookie set in. Bobby found it tough to adjust at first and was inactive for a number of games, which left many fans and media questioning the Cowboys making him a first-round pick. But, Bobby hung tough and worked hard and eventually forced his way into games, both on special teams and as a backup linebacker and started getting results.
Carpenter knows he has come a long way from where he was when he first came to the Cowboys and where he was at the end of the 2006 regular season. “I think I have a better ability to deal with the peaks and valleys,” he said. “Coming out of Ohio State, we had a lot of success there and lost only eight games the whole time I was there. I wasn’t used to failure, both on the field and off. When I came here, I forgot how tough it was to adjust initially at Ohio State. I only remembered the good things from when I was there. My freshman year, I had a tough time adjusting like all freshmen do. Early on this year was a little rough too. It’s come along dramatically since then and I’m starting to enjoy it more.”
Two of Bobby’s veteran teammates have also been impressed with the strides that this young Buckeye has made as an NFL rookie. “Look at what happened at the beginning of the year,” said fellow linebacker Kevin Burnett. “He was inactive and didn’t do much. Now he’s coming in and basically splitting time. What more can you ask for from a rookie to come in and contribute in the fashion that he’s done. He came in and went from non active to a part-time starter who plays a big role in the defense. If we don’t do the things we did last week with him, that game probably turns out differently.”
Starting linebacker Akin Ayodele, a product of Purdue, agrees. “He’s definitely playing a lot more now,” he said. “His confidence is way up and he knows his responsibilities and what he has to do. That has been a big part of the success of this team and the defense the last few weeks. We’ve been winning. He has stepped up when Greg Ellis went down and came in and made big plays.”
Ayodele and Burnett also relayed some of their own experiences as NFL rookies to help ease Carpenter’s adjustment to life in the NFL. “We’ve sat down and talked and let him know that not just everybody comes in right away and knows everything,” Ayodele said. “Playing with a coach like Parcells isn’t easy. He’s a mature guy for his age and he has been learning. When the media and everyone else was down on him, we as teammates still believed in him and he believed in himself. He took time to learn his playbook better, watch more film and become a better player on defense.”
“I shared those with him the first part of the season,” Burnett added. “I had to let him know what it was going to be like. I told him that he might be active for the first few weeks and that is part of being a rookie. It’s a long season.”
Carpenter isn’t the only Buckeye on the Cowboy roster as Terry Glenn has been a starting wide receiver for them since 2003. The veteran pass catcher helped make Bobby’s transition to the NFL a bit easier. “That’s huge,” Carpenter said. “Terry is a quiet guy and keeps to himself. He was one of the guys that I idolized growing up in Central Ohio. It’s good to see a guy like him come here and be successful. He was one of the first guys to say something to me when I got here. He told me that if I ever needed anything that I could give me a call. He’s done a lot for me in that respect. It’s always nice to have someone to talk to when we (Ohio State) is doing well.”
Also helping shorten his learning curve a bit is a great group of veterans on defense for Carpenter to learn from. “We have a great group of veterans here,” he stated. “I think it would have been tougher for me to adjust if they wouldn’t have been such great people. They always make sure your head is up and everything is screwed on straight. There are days where you can tell that everybody doesn’t want to practice and they do a good job of keeping everyone together.”
Bobby is also following in his father’s footsteps by playing for the now former Cowboys Head Coach Bill Parcells. Rob played for the Big Tuna from 1983 until 1985 with the New York Giants and gave his son a few pointers about playing for the two-time Super Bowl winning coach. “He said you just have to go out there every day and be tough,” he said. “He’s going to get on you, say things and just wants to see how you respond. He’s going to push you as hard as he can and you have to be ready for that. You have to prove it to him every day. He told me how hard he can be on rookies. He warned me about what he had seen with some of the other young guys before.”