Steelers linebacker Chris Carter making, leaving marks

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It seemed as if it were a simple enough running play, just another run to the left in an 11-on-11 scrimmage drill that allows hitting but no tackling.

And Chris Carter, an outside linebacker who is known more for his speed, took advantage of the hitting.

From his right outside position, Carter came charging through the line of scrimmage and took on the lineman headed toward him, 335-pound tackle Chris Scott.

Carter -- who came to camp weighing 246 pounds, 8 pounds heavier than he was as a rookie in 2011 -- gives away nearly 90 pounds to Scott. But that didn't stop him from taking on Scott with a thunderous hit and blowing up the running play, all but stopping Scott in his tracks.

His defensive teammates celebrated as if Carter just stopped Ray Rice on fourth-and-inches at the goal line. Even Coach Mike Tomlin let out a whoop.

That's what the coaches have been eager to see from Carter, a fifth-round draft choice in 2011 who was a pass-rushing defensive end at Fresno State. And they have been seeing it with increasing and pleasant regularity at training camp.

"I came in a little heavier because I wanted to, and I came in a lot stronger, too," Carter said. "And I knew I was going do all the reps with the first team, so you have to be prepared. You have to have your body ready if you want to make improvements with the position I play. I couldn't stay where I was. I had to go up a couple pounds."

Carter is getting a big-time chance to make a mark at training camp. With Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison on the physically unable-to-perform list and backup Jason Worilds expected to be out two to four weeks recovering from wrist surgery, Carter is working with the first-team defense at right outside linebacker.

His specialty is rushing the passer, something he did superbly in college when he registered 11 sacks and 16 1/2 tackles for losses, and was named the Western Athletic Conference defensive player of the year as a senior. Carter is so quick he is probably the fastest player off the edge among the Steelers linebackers.

Now, though, he is trying to learn more of the other nuances of being an outside linebacker in the NFL.

"He doesn't know much about a lot of pass coverage and formations," said linebackers coach Keith Butler. "He's always been right on the tight end or the tackle. He has to play the true linebacker position and he's never had to do that.

"But he's still learning. He's a never-say-die guy. He's Clark Haggans. I feel like he's going to be quicker and maybe a little stronger when he does learn it.

Butler said he also would like to see Carter use more than just his speed in pass-rush situations.

"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 said. "I think he will be, but I think he has to learn to do that."

And Carter said he is ready to do so. With the offseason training activities and minicamp -- something he didn't have last season during the lockout -- he is way ahead of where he was in 2011 and a lot more comfortable with his defensive assignments.

"I know how to approach this training camp; I'm not so much stressed about it now," Carter said. "All you can do is play. Your play determines your future. I understand that. When you come in as a rookie, you're just praying and hoping they keep you on the team.

"Sometimes you don't think about those small variables. It's those types of things -- the fact I can grasp and understand the playbook-- that help me play faster and be more confident, too.

"I think the best thing of all is I'm out there with the 1s, with Brett [Keisel], with Troy [Polamalu], Ryan [Clark], Ike [Taylor], LaMarr [Woodley]. It forces you to get all the concepts, the playbook, get everything down correct.

You don't want to mess those dudes up. They take it seriously. I have to get it together quick. In the long run, it helps me out, too."

Ask Chris Scott.

NOTE -- The players were off Monday and will resume practice today. The 2:55 p.m. session is open to the public.


Gerry Dulac: and Twitter @gerrydulac. First Published July 31, 2012 4:00 AM


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