IRVING -- The last time Bruce Carter played a game in Philadelphia, the Dallas Cowboys' inside linebacker arrived as an untested rookie preparing for his NFL debut.
Carter, a second-year pro, returns Sunday as the signal-caller of the Cowboys' defense and is coming off a breakthrough performance: a team-high, 10-tackle game in a 19-13 loss to Atlanta that included two memorable stops for losses, a pass breakup and a play when Carter ran down and tackled receiver Julio Jones.
Carter's effort marked his first double-digit total as a tackler since taking over for injured teammate Sean Lee as Dallas' defensive play-caller. In his two games in that role, Carter has combined to make 17 tackles, including three for losses. He's broken up two passes.
Most important to coaches, Carter has shown he could shoulder additional duties without letting it impact his ability to roam sideline to sideline while making plays.
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"Sometimes when you have added responsibilities mentally, you slow down and you play a little bit more tentatively. He hasn't done that," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "He's made a lot of plays. We're lucky to have him."
Garrett stressed that Carter "hasn't been perfect in his communication" but coaches, and Lee, are working with him in that area. For Carter, Sunday's return to Philadelphia -- where he logged his first career tackle in his NFL debut on Oct. 30, 2011 -- underscores how far he has come since joining the team as a second-round pick coming off major knee surgery in April 2011.
"It's a whole lot different. Last year, I was just kind of nervous coming in to play in my first game in the NFL," Carter said, reflecting on his last trip to Philadelphia. "This year, I'm really in the mix. I'm trying to take it one play at a time and just study as much as I can and make sure everyone is on the right track."
To make that happen, Carter said he watches videotapes on a daily basis with Lee, who is on injured reserve because of season-ending toe surgery. Carter takes more detailed notes in team meetings. And he leans on feedback from Lee, linebackers coach Matt Eberflus and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
"I'm just trying to get as much information as I can," said Carter, who acknowledged spending "a whole lot more" time in the film room since Lee's injury.
Carter, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his final college game at North Carolina during the 2010 season, spent the first six weeks of his rookie season rehabilitating his knee before playing in the Cowboys' final 10 games. He saw duty primarily on special teams but has emerged as an impact starter -- and, now, the defensive signal-caller -- because of what Ryan described as a "night-and-day" difference in his work ethic and comfort level with the team's defense in 2012.
"He's starting to become a terrific player," Ryan said Friday. "If everybody played like Bruce, we'd win every week."
Carter declared himself "real close" to being comfortable with the heightened pace of the NFL game, which remains an adjustment. In many ways, he said being forced into the signal-caller role because of Lee's absence is expediting his development.
"I think so," Carter said. "It demands me to know the whole defense, what everybody is doing. When you can ...get a concept of Rob's scheme and what he's trying to do, I don't think it's as difficult. When you study, study, study for a test, then it's easy."
In his return to Philadelphia, Carter the student will get a chance Sunday to show how much he's learned since making his NFL debut last season against the Eagles.
Ratliff won't dwell
Nose tackle Jay Ratliff said the plantar fasciitis in his foot is something he will have to play with all year, but that the injuries to his foot -- including a high ankle sprain last year and a normal sprain last week -- won't stop him.
"Any time you get hurt, yes, it's frustrating, but I've been down this road before," he said. "In this business, being hurt is not an excuse."
Ratliff is 13th on the team with 17 tackles, one for loss, and has seven quarterback pressures despite playing only four games.
He did not practice Wednesday or Thursday but returned to practice Friday on a limited basis.
Running back DeMarco Murray will miss his fourth consecutive game with a foot injury. He likely will be joined on the sideline by linebacker Dan Connor. Connor injured his neck after 10 plays of the Giants game and missed last week's game.
Cornerback Mike Jenkins (back) left Thursday's practice early to have an MRI. He did not practice Friday and is questionable to play Sunday.
Center Phil Costa (ankle), safety Matt Johnson (hamstring) and defensive lineman Sean Lissemore (ankle) are out.
Receiver Dez Bryant (hip) made it through this week's practices as a full participant and will play Sunday.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760