I was a bit surprised when the Steelers traded Adrian Robinson to the Eagles earlier this morning. Although Robinson spent the entirety of his rookie season on the bench, it looked like he would provide some depth at outside linebacker and chip in on special teams this fall.
With the former Temple Owl in Philadelphia however, Pittsburgh’s coaching staff must find someone to take his place on the team’s depth chart. Now the battle for what figures to be one of the final spots on Pittsburgh’s 53-man roster will be between veteran backup Chris Carter and 2013 UDFA Alan Baxter.
I for one hope that Carter can take advantage of this current opportunity, especially since he did absolutely nothing with the one he was awarded last fall. With James Harrison sidelined to start the 2012 campaign, Carter was forced to fill-in for the team’s best pass-rusher. Sadly for the second-year outside linebacker, he was completely underwhelming and only recorded eight tackles over the course of his eight games that season.
Did I mention that Carter failed to register a sack and created almost zero pocket collapse in Harrison’s place? Because that is also pretty significant.
Anyway, the biggest reason why I hope that Carter can shine this fall is because it would give a raw yet talented UDFA like Baxter a chance to develop on the practice squad for a season. While the former defensive did not receive as much publicity as his former Northern Illinois teammate, Sean Progar, Baxter nevertheless proved to be an effective pass-rusher for the Huskies during his two seasons as a starter.
Overall, Baxter combined to record 15.0 sacks and 24.0 tackles for loss during the 2011 and 2012 campaigns, and he even earned first team All-MAC honors last fall. Despite his somewhat small stature (6′ 238 lbs.), the Steelers took a chance on the former Husky and signed him as a UDFA back in April.
Although Baxter shined during training camp, his play during the preseason has left much to be desired according to some like David Todd of 970 AM ESPN. A year of development though would provide ample opportunities for the outside linebacker to put on some weight, hone his technique, and learn his new position.
As I mentioned previously, Pittsburgh’s brass will probably be able to place him on their eight-man practice squad once the preseason concludes. Thus, Baxter is likely headed there unless he becomes an absolute stud on special teams during the team’s final two preseason games.
It would certainly please me if Carter turned a proverbial “corner” this fall and left what happened during his first two years far behind him. His rookie contract is set to expire after the 2014 season, so time is starting to run out for the outside linebacker to make a splash with the team that drafted him back in 2011.
If Carter can step up, then it would also allow the Steelers to place Baxter on their practice squad for developmental purposes. Whatever happens though, there is one spot on the 53-man roster up for grabs at outside linebacker now that Robinson has left town.
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