Stevenson Sylvester Versus Chris Carter Training Camp Battle In The Works?

By Matthew Marczi

That fourth-year reserve linebacker Stevenson Sylvester is entering a critical season was no secret long before linebackers coach Keith Butler said so explicitly. Indeed, it was obvious before the Pittsburgh Steelers chose not to give Sylvester a restricted free agent tender.

With Pittsburgh Tribune-Review author Mark Kaboly reporting on Wednesday that the Steelers have moved Sylvester from inside linebacker—where he has played nearly exclusively—to outside linebacker during this week’s minicamp suggests that his roster spot might very well hinge on his versatility.

As Dave Bryan wrote earlier, the position switch does seem in part to suggest that the coaches are pleased with what they have seen from former undrafted free agent Marshall McFadden, who led the Steelers in tackles during the 2012 preseason and earned himself a spot on the practice squad.

It would be irresponsible, of course, to suggest that the move has anything to do with second-year linebacker Sean Spence and his recovery from a knee injury, despite his confidence that he will play this season. But perhaps it does say something about another young linebacker on the roster: Chris Carter.

Carter, a former fifth round draft pick entering his third season in the league, was tabbed to start the first couple of games of the season a year ago at right outside linebacker as James Harrison and Jason Worilds recovered from their own injuries.

Carter, however, has an injury history of his own, having played in only half of the 32 games during which he has been a member of the team. Though Sylvester’s play was extremely limited during the 2012 season, he has still been more productive than Carter.

Many have suggested that Carter and Adrian Robinson or Sylvester and McFadden would be jockeying for their respective positions, but perhaps that is not the case after all. Perhaps it is Sylvester and Carter who are now battling for the ninth linebacker spot on the roster.

The Steelers already have Worilds, LaMarr Woodley, rookie Jarvis Jones, and, Robinson, who appears to be a coach favorite, at the outside linebacker position aside from Carter, after all. Why else would they move Sylvester there unless to see if he can bolster his chances of making the roster by flashing position flexibility?

What is worse for Carter is that, despite his speed and quickness, he has not demonstrated much of a talent for special teams, which would be his primary role while sitting behind at least three other players on the depth chart at his position, if not four.

Sylvester, on the other hand, has in the past displayed a penchant for the third aspect of the game of football, as attested by his 11 special teams tackles and forced fumble during his rookie season in 2010.

Also of note: in 2012, Sylvester played on 41% of the team’s special teams snaps despite missing six games. Carter played on 24% of the team’s special teams snaps despite missing eight games. Carter may have missed more time, but it does not account for that discrepancy.

Aside from special teams play, Carter’s in-game performance on defense was also quite lackluster, and certainly not worth saving a roster spot for over a player fifth of the depth chart whose special teams performance leaves much to be desired. In three starts, Carter managed just six tackles, with four of them being assisted tackles, and one was on special teams. He was credited with one pass defensed and two quarterback pressures as well.

Coupled with his injury history, his pedestrian performance during a three game stretch as a starter, and his uninspiring play on special teams, perhaps Carter’s future with the team is just as much in jeopardy as is Sylvester’s, especially if the latter shows any type of competence as an outside linebacker. Of course, nobody is giving a player like Robinson a free pass either, but to my mind, at the moment the ninth linebacker spot would appear to be down to Sylvester and Carter.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • CW

    God, what a terrible camp battle. Two pathetic players fighting it out over a roster spot that neither of them will excel at more than likely and might end up seeing both of them replaced if some rookie looks too good not to keep on the roster.

  • steeltown

    Well.. if true.. atleast Carter and Sylvestor will really push eachother because they both have to figure its do or die in 2013

    With Jarvis Jones, A.Robinson and M.McFadden seemingly impressing the coaches, these two guys (Carter & Sly) are truly expendable unlike in yrs past. I cant believe im saying this, but after hearing the news that he is being moved outside, Sly might actually win a roster spot due to position flexibility (kind of like Brandon Johnson)

  • RMSteeler

    Hoping A. Robinson at least gets a chance as a situational pass rusher during the regular season this year and help dial up QB pressure, especially against Tom (I see dead people) Brady.

  • steeltown

    We are basically one injury away from A.Robinson getting extensive looks.. so the chances are pretty good he’ll see the field more

  • Matthew Marczi

    Well, somebody has to be the last man on the totem pole and play teams. Sylvester was great on teams in his rookie year, and good his second year. I can’t imagine any undrafted rookie linebackers being taken on as a ninth linebacker this year, especially after they just did that last season with Robinson. More likely than that would be to just carry eight linebackers.

  • Christopher Wilkes

    I can’t stand Chris Carter. I don’t know what the team sees in him. I’d like to see Sly beat him out, but will that leave us any better off? I dunno, but I bet Sly has a good preseason, stays injury free and beats out Carter for a spot.

  • CW

    Honestly I hate even thinking about either of these two as failures since I spent a good deal of time looking over their game film when they were drafted and generally thought they could succeed.

    I seriously thought that while Stevenson might never be as good as Farrior, I thought he could be a decent replacement. That wasn’t ever to be.

    With Carter I was impressed with his college pass rushing skills and thought he could mature into a Clark Haggins type outside linebacker. Good, but not great and he never lived up to that hope.

    Now if it’s a choice between holding onto either of these two and maybe keeping J.D. Woods on the roster, who has made some great one handed catches in college and has shown a willingness to block to open up routes for his fellow receivers much like Ward once did, I believe that holding onto Woods would be the better choice even if it meant only keeping eight linebackers.

  • steeltown

    I wouldn’t be against keeping a player like JD Woods, but if that were the case they better stash LB Terence Garvin or Alan Baxter on the practice squad just in case

    Being that we’ll probably only carry 4RBs and 4Safeties this season, we’ll have two more roster spots than we did last season. I think they’ll stock up at the LB position (9LB)