Pittsburgh Steelers: Why Chris Carter Should Replace James Harrison at OLB

Chris Gazze@ChrisG_PITCorrespondent IAugust 16, 2012

LATROBE, PA - JULY 29:  James Harrison #92 of the Pittsburgh Steelers snaps in his chin guard during training camp on July 29, 2011 at St Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Could the Pittsburgh Steelers be without star outside linebacker James Harrison for the start of the season?

It is possible since Harrison underwent arthroscopic surgery on his injured left knee Wednesday, though head coach Mike Tomlin told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that it is possible Harrison could be ready to face the Denver Broncos in Week 1 of the regular season.

"Shouldn’t be long," Tomlin said of Harrison's return. "We'll see when we get him back here and start the process of working him back."

But if Harrison cannot play, the Steelers will need to decide who will start the season at right outside linebacker.

While they have a number of options, the right move would be giving Chris Carter the job.

Admittedly, I believe Carter is at least a year away from being ready to be a full-time starter, but that doesn't mean he shouldn't be on the field.

The obvious question then becomes, why put in Carter if he isn't ready?

Because Carter—as of now—is the best option the Steelers have to start in place of Harrison. Just take a look at the other options.

Moving Lawrence Timmons to the outside again this season would mean that either rookie Sean Spence, Stevenson Sylvester or Brandon Johnson would have to start on the inside. While all three may be capable players, they cannot do what Timmons is capable of on the inside.

And the last thing the Steelers need to do is weaken their defense at inside linebacker as well as outside linebacker.  

Besides, Timmons was not very effective when replacing Harrison at right outside linebacker last season. Over a four-game stretch in October, Timmons was less than stellar. He only managed 12 tackles, had no sacks and was generally ineffective as a pass-rusher.

Jason Worilds is another possibility and had a fair amount of playing time last season, but he remains on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. Without the offseason workouts and training camp, chances are he won't be ready for the start of the season. Beyond this, will Worilds even be healthy enough by the time the season starts?

Sylvester is an athletic option who has been fair at left outside linebacker, but lacks experience at the position.

Johnson is a savvy veteran who played well in the preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, but this is his first year with the Steelers, and he may be better-served in a reserve role.

That leaves Carter.

Carter has had a strong camp and has flashed signs of a good speed rush. He also has improved against the run, but still has room to grow.

The key, however, is that he has shown something. Young linebackers who eventually develop into stars in the Steelers' system almost always flash early in their careers, and Carter has done just that.

Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he is confident in Carter, even if he is a bit raw.

"I don't know if you can replace James Harrison," Butler said. "I don't know if you can do that. Right now, we're short until either Jason or James gets back. Chris has done a great job. He's improved quite a bit. I think he'll be ready to play. I don't know if he'll be ready to play a full game, so that's a concern."

Butler and the rest of the Steelers coaching staff may not have a choice but to start Carter until Harrison is ready—and that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Carter may be young, but he has a quick first step and is slowly developing his power game. He is hungry and certainly will jump on an opportunity to make a name for himself.

More importantly, Carter is the best the Steelers currently have—that is, unless, Harrison can pull it together for the season opener.


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