For the first three games of the 2012 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers were forced to start linebacker Chris Carter on the right side due to both James Harrison and Jason Worilds not being fully healthy. It was a golden opportunity for the 2011 fifth-round draft pick out of Fresno State, but unfortunately not one that he took good advantage of.
Carter, who received quite a bit of work during training camp last year as starter with Harrison and Worilds on the active PUP list, played 103 snaps in the Steelers first three games, but only managed to register 6 total tackles and never really threatened the opposing quarterback.
Had Carter played well in those three games, he still wasn\’t going to unseat Harrison as the starter, but it would have given the Steelers coaching staff more confidence in the depth of the position moving forward. Instead, once Harrison and Worilds were back to full health, Carter only saw the field on defense for one more play the rest of the season.
Carter reportedly showed up to training camp last year in better shape after having his rookie season interrupted by a nagging hamstring injury, but another hamstring problem midway through the 2012 season, combined with an abdominal injury, forced him to be placed on the Steelers injured reserve list for a second season in a row in the middle of November.
The Steelers cut Harrison loose this past off-season, but addressed the outside linebacker spot in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft when they selected Jarvis Jones out of Georgia. With Worilds expected to fill the vacated shoes of Harrison initially in 2013, it will mean that Carter can\’t afford any down time or poor play in training camp if he wants to maintain his grip on a roster spot.
As Carter heads into his third training camp, he will be expected to know the defense inside and out. With Jones most likely going to start the season as the backup to Worilds on the right side, Carter might be asked to switch sides and that would likely mean that the Steelers are hopeful that he can serve as a backup in 2013 to LaMarr Woodley.
The Steelers expect all of their backup linebackers to contribute heavily on special teams and that is something that Carter has yet to do in his first two seasons thanks to injuries. While I do think that he has a good shot at making the 53 man roster this year out of training camp, he really needs to show a lot of development on the defensive side of the football during the preseason. If he doesn\’t, the Steelers will more than likely wind up drafting another couple of outside linebackers next April as Carter would then be entering the final year of his rookie contract and primed to be released prior to the start of the 2014 season.
Like the rest of you, I will be watching Carter closely during the preseason with hopes that his third season will be a healthy one and productive one on special teams.