Important Preseason On Tap For Chris Carter

The Pittsburgh Steelers have now been in training camp for over a week now and one thing is for certain, as if it wasn\’t already, second year linebacker Chris Carter is a lock to make the 53 man roster.

Carter, who reportedly came to camp this year 8 pounds heavier, has been taking the first team reps at the right outside linebacker spot with both James Harrison and Jason Worilds currently on the PUP list. He also is fully recovered from the hamstring injury that saw him miss a lot of practice time last season. That injury was likely a result of him not having an offseason program that was courtesy of the lockout.

Carter  played just under 50 snaps on defense in 3 different games as a rookie and looked exactly like you would think he would look. Like a rookie. Being as he didn\’t have an offseason program, he was lucky to even see the field as much as he did. If not for the injuries to Harrison, Worilds and left outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, his primary role would have been that of all rookie Steeler linebackers, that role being of course special teams.

By many accounts Carter is having a great sophomore training camp and that is great to hear. He likely will be the starting right outside linebacker in the Steelers first preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles next week and that will be quality playing time that will certainly do him good.

Although the Fresno State is having a good camp, linebacker coach Keith Butler insist he still has a lot to learn and that certainly is to be expected. The transition from defensive end to a 3-4 outside linebacker is not an easy one to make and it usually takes two seasons for it to happen. Butler talked to David Todd on Wednesday about that transition and where Carter currently is at in it.

“It\’s very difficult to come in as a player who has always played defensive end and has never stood up and never had to adjust to different formations, and all the formations that you get in the NFL,” Butler said. It\’s a little bit difficult if you\’ve never had to that.”

“It\’s still new for him and he\’ll figure out what\’s going on behind him the more he plays,” continued Butler. “He\’ll figure out where he\’s supposed to be, how he fits within the scheme, how his technique fits within the scheme. He\’s still got a lot to learn.”

Despite still having a lot to learn, Butler seems impressed with the effort that Carter is giving in making the transition. “You know the thing about Chris is he\’s a never say die guy,” said Butler. “He\’s got a great motor on him, he\’s always going to try. He\’s always going to give you 100%. He might not know what he\’s supposed to be doing, but he\’s flying around. He\’s still got a lot to learn, and he wants to learn, he\’s in the process of doing that and he\’s going to do nothing but get better.”

Another aspect of his game that Carter needs to work on is his bull rush according to Butler. He apparently has the speed rush part down, but being able to walk a tackle back into the quarterback, along with being able to control the edge, are two important qualities that a 3-4 outside linebacker must possess.

“He needs to learn to use his speed in terms of turning and bull-rushing people, to get strong enough in his legs to do what we call walk the dog — take the tackle back to the quarterback,” Butler told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. “I think he will be, but I think he has to learn to do that.”

Hopefully Carter gets extended playing time next Thursday night against the Eagles so we can get a good evaluation of where he is at in terms of all of the areas that Butler says he has to improve in. With both Harrison and Worilds expected to miss at least a few more weeks, and maybe longer, the experience that Carter gains in the preseason could come into play at some point during the 2012 season.

Special teams contributions are still a given, but should catastrophe strike again in 2012, like it did in 2011, the Steelers certainly don\’t want to have to move Lawrence Timmons back to the outside. Although Harrison should be fine come the start of the regular season, Butler didn\’t seem so sure on Wednesday that Worilds would be. I would say that there is a remote chance that he could start the regular season on PUP. It all depends on that wrist and when he can get back to contact. Even if he is close to being ready when the season starts, there is a good chance that Carter could be the backup to Harrison when the team opens the season in Denver.

This preseason is an important one for Carter and my eyes will certainly be fixed on him.

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