The Pittsburgh Steelers head into the 2012 season with huge question marks at one of their most important position groups on defense, and I am of course talking about the linebacker group.
Starting right outside linebacker James Harrison is all but ruled out for the Sunday night opener in Denver and that means that second year linebacker Chris Carter will likely make his first career start in the Mile High City.
While Carter has played extensively during the preseason, he has had his ups and downs in the four games and he only managed one sack via a shoe string tackle in his extended playing time. He must learn how to bull rush his defender instead of relying totally on his speed to get the edge.
While LaMarr Woodley seems to be back to full health on the opposite side, and thank God for that, the depth behind him consist of Jason Worilds and undrafted free agent Adrian Robinson. Worilds has yet to take a snap in a game since the season ended in Denver as he continues to work his way back from offseason wrist surgery. As impressive as Robinson was during the preseason at chasing quarterbacks, those snaps never came against quality competition. He has potential, yes, but is extremely raw.
At least inside the Steelers start the season with both Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons healthy. That being said, Foote is in the final year of his contract and now must be counted on more than ever with rookie Sean Spence lost for the season with a knee injury a few weeks ago. Spence, at the very least, would have likely been able to spell Foote during the season on passing downs, but not anymore.
Stevenson Sylvester, who has still yet to make the jump that many thought he would, starts the season with an injured knee. Even when healthy during the first few weeks of the preseason, he still looked confused at times inside and was even getting snaps outside. He certainly hasn\'t exhibited the qualities of a starting BUCK linebacker up until this point in the Steelers 3-4 defense.
The lone backup inside right now is Brandon Johnson, who was signed very late in the offseason. Johnson might not have made the 53 man roster if not for all of the injuries. While the former Bengal is a strong special teams player, there was a reason he was still on the street in June. He has been worked both inside and outside so far since his arrival, and while he can play three positions, he is a master of none of them.
The best thing that can happen right now is that both Harrison and Sylvester get back to 100% at least by the time the bye week arrives. Worilds should be able to get back into game shape pretty quick and he needs to pick up where he left off last year. Carter will have to show in a hurry that he is the future on the right side pretty quick.
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is a great defensive mind, but if he doesn\'t have the talent on the field to properly to execute his schemes, it could wind up being a long year for the defense, which in turn would put a lot of pressure on the offense to carry the load this year.