Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison did not practice on Thursday due to his knee so that means we can likely expect second year linebacker Chris Carter to get the start at right outside linebacker in the Sunday night opener against the Denver Broncos. Mike Bires of the Beaver County Times reported via Twitter on Thursday that Carter said it\’s his understanding that he will start if Harrison can\’t go.
Harrison said late Thursday via Twitter that he will be practicing on Friday and that he will have a better idea after that if he\’ll be ready to go Sunday night or not. That being said, the Steelers will in all likelihood sit Harrison, who has only participated on a limited basis in just two practices dating back to the Steelers first OTA session this past summer.
Carter, the Steelers 2011 fifth round draft pick out of Fresno State, started all four of the Steelers preseason games while both Harrison and fellow linebacker Jason Worilds were sidelined and he recorded 7 combined tackles and sack in the process.
Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was asked Thursday if he is OK with Carter starting the opener in Denver if Harrison is unable to go and he said that he was. “Definitely, definitely, he\’s a promising young player,” said LeBeau. He really brings a lot of energy and he\’s in great shape. He played the whole preseason like he wants to be here, like he wants to be on the field and that did not go unnoticed by the coaching staff. Are we going to perfect? No, we\’ve got some young guys and new guys, but they\’re going to play hard and I feel good about Chris when he\’s in there.”
Carter saw action in just eight games on special teams and at outside linebacker as a rookie as he battled a hamstring injury for most of the season. In total he played just under 50 snaps in 3 games last year when Harrison was down after fracturing an orbital bone in week 4 against the Houston Texans. Carter looked lost during many of those snaps and that was to be expected due to the fact that he had no offseason program to participate in thanks to the lockout.
“You have to understand, last year before our first preseason game, I only had my playbook for two weeks,” said Carter back in mid August. “I had never seen the playbook before then. I had not met anybody on the coaching staff until we went to camp.”
The young linebacker also reportedly bulked up this offseason as he added close to 10 pounds of muscle through strength training. The bulk certainly didn\’t look like it slowed him down any during the preseason either. While Carter can use his speed rushing the passer on the outside, he still hasn\’t shown that he can effectively bull rush consistently and he needs to do a better job of controlling the edge against the run instead of getting sucked inside.
With the status of Harrison moving forward is currently unknown, Carter could very well wind up being the Steelers starter on the right side for some time and perhaps even permanently.