By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — After a couple hard practice days, Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison backed off Thursday and second-year pro Chris Carter handled the starting spot on the right side of the club’s defense.
Harrison (left knee), who did not participate at all in Thursday’s practice, was expected to return Friday. He also said he would discuss his health after the Steelers’ Friday practice, which is scheduled for 10:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
If Harrison can’t play against the Denver Broncos Sunday night, second-year player Chris Carter is expected to get the start. Carter played extensively during the preseason, and Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau would not hesitate to start him this week.
“Definitely,” LeBeau said. “Definitely, he’s a promising young player. He really brings a lot of energy. He’s in great shape, and he played the whole preseason like he wants to be here, like he wants to be on the field, and that did not go unnoticed by the coaching staff.
“Are we going to be perfect? No, but we’ve got some young guys, some new guys, but they’re going to play hard. And I feel good about Chris when he’s in there. He’s a promising young player for us.”
If Carter starts for the Steelers, their defense would be much younger than it was to open last season, as fourth-year player Keenan Lewis getting the start opposite Ike Taylor at cornerback. Second-year cornerback Cortez Allen would be the first player in when the club increases the number in its secondary.
“Keenan Lewis has done a great job so far,” LeBeau said. “Last year, our pass statistics went up, and I think it was because guys like Keenan, Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen all came in and did a good job.
“This year, they’re all a year older, so, hopefully, they’ll be a year smarter and better. I feel good about them. We only have four corners, but our safeties … Troy can play any corner spot, and the same for the rookie (Robert Golden).”
Steelers wideout Mike Wallace has been getting a lot of work in practice, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he started against the Broncos. However, Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley would not commit to that.
“We know that Mike has been a big part of this, and he’s going to be a big part of this as we go forward,” Haley said. “He’s had a couple days to get acclimated. He’s been studying, he’s kept himself in shape. So, he’ll have a chance to succeed.
“You can tell that he’s a true pro, a veteran, now that he’s been around a few years. It’s clear that he put some time into the (playbook) since he’s been here, and he spent all last weekend with Coach Montgomery, five or six hours each day. So, he’s a smart player, and he’ll have a chance to succeed.”
Haley also would not discuss a specific plan of attack for using his running backs, but he addressed returning starter Rashard Mendenhall.
“Any day that he’s out here is a good sign,” Haley said. “I hate to talk about off schedule or on schedule, especially when you’re talking about running backs coming back from a major knee injury. But he’s been out here working. He doesn’t have the (no-contact) jersey on, and he’s gaining confidence every day.
“We have a plan, and we’re excited about the group. When Rashard gets back, whenever that is, we’ll have a good group. We have some big guys who can move piles, some quick guys and some in-between guys. So, I know they’re all up to the challenge, and they can’t wait for Sunday night.”
Notes: Running back Baron Batch (groin), offensive guard David DeCastro (knee) and inside linebacker Stevenson Sylvester (knee) also did not practice Thursday. … Starting offensive guard Chris Kuper (forearm) did not practice for the second straight day for Denver. … The Steelers will wear their 80th anniversary throwback jerseys, otherwise known as the bumblebee uniforms, during home games with the Washington Redskins (Oct. 28) and Baltimore Ravens (Nov. 18).