Linebacker Bruce Carter got the message… and his job back.
The Dallas Cowboys wanted to teach Carter a lesson for his lack of effort in a poor outing against the San Diego Chargers two weeks ago, according to a source, so they demoted him behind Ernie Sims on Sunday against the Denver Broncos.
Sims confirmed Friday that Carter is back in the starting lineup at weakside linebacker and in the nickel for Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins.
Sims likely will start at strongside linebacker for an injured Justin Durant, who practiced Friday for the first time since injuring his groin in the Sept. 29 game against the Chargers.
Carter wouldn’t confirm his role Sunday, but acknowledges the benching lit a fire.
“I don’t know what they were trying to do, but they definitely motivated me,” Carter said.
“It definitely puts a chip on your shoulder. You’ve got to go out there and prove to everybody you can play at a high level. You can’t take anything for granted.”
Carter played only 39 of 79 snaps Sunday against Denver as the Cowboys spent most of the game in the nickel. He denies he gave less than 100 percent against the Chargers, but he does concede that his transition to weakside linebacker in the 4-3 has taken longer than expected.
Carter, who is second on the team with 38 tackles and has two sacks, called last week a “learning lesson.”
“Never been benched. Never a backup,” Carter said. “…I can’t take my position for granted or playing for the Cowboys, period.”
Austin ready to return
Receiver Miles Austin expects to return to the field Sunday for the first time since Sept. 22 when he strained his hamstring against the St. Louis Rams.
He said he is “fired up” and “excited” after missing the past two games.
Austin returned to practice this week and was a full participant all three days. The Cowboys list him as probable.
“It’s a hard deal not being out there,” said Austin, who missed six games in 2011 with hamstring injuries. “Definitely feels good to be practicing again, being able to run again.”
Austin has 15 catches for 125 yards this season. Terrance Williams has 11 catches for 222 yards and a touchdown the past two games.
But Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Austin will return to his familiar role as a starter.
Austin played in 129 of 141 plays the first two games.
Division home game
The Cowboys have a chance Sunday to do something they haven’t done since 2009.
They can guarantee a winning record in their division home games with a victory over the Redskins.
The Cowboys beat the New York Giants 36-31 at AT&T Stadium in the season opener. They play Philadelphia at home in the regular-season finale on Dec. 29.
The Cowboys were 1-2 in their division home games each of the past three seasons. They were 2-1 in 2009, the last time they made the playoffs.
“I think it’s important. There’s no question about it,” Jason Garrett said. “You try to treat each of the games the same. There’s 16 games on the schedule. You need to win all of them.
“They all count the same, but having said that, the division games are important because that means a win for you, and a loss for them. And certainly the division games at home are critical, so you need to play well against your division opponents; you need to play well at home against your division opponents.”
Briefly• The Cowboys signed practice squad linebacker Cameron Lawrence to the 53-man roster, filling the spot created by the release of safety Will Allen. Lawrence is an undrafted rookie out of Mississippi State.
• The Cowboys have ruled out running back Lance Dunbar (hamstring) and defensive end Edgar Jones (groin) for Sunday’s game. Linebacker Justin Durant (groin) is questionable. Safety Barry Church (nose), receiver Dwayne Harris (hip) and defensive tackle Jason Hatcher (stinger) are probable.
• Larry Allen will receive his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring during a ceremony at halftime.
• Parking lots open at 2:30 p.m. The plazas open at 4:30 p.m. Stadium gates open at 5:30 p.m. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Staff writer Clarence E. Hill Jr. contributed to this report.