Jason Worilds was the top back-up last season, having filled in for both Woodley and Harrison at different points of the season, but a wrist injury cost him all of training camp. A bum knee kept Harrison out for the same amount of itme.
Second-year man Chris Carter filled in for both of them, and now in their return, one school of thought is Carter goes back to a fairly anonymous role, behind Worilds, bringing up the rear of the position on the depth chart.
Is that really the case, though?
Entering the Steelers' Week 1 opener at Denver, Woodley and Carter will most likely have been the only outside linebacker with game experience to have not missed any training camp or preseason game action. They aren't awarded medals for that or anything, but it does raise concern over whether either Worilds or Harrison will be conditioned enough to fully participate in the game - particularly considering the Mile High air.
Carter has a nice step off the line, and looked competent enough in his pass rush where he could be an asset if he continues to develop along the same lines. It's a different story against the run, though. While he can't realistically be expected to anchor down against the run the way Harrison does - and has throughout his tenure with the Steelers - to legitimately compete for that top back-up position, he's going to have to get within the vicinity of that level.
Neither Harrison nor Worilds will play in the preseason finale Thursday, so expect Carter and undrafted rookie standout Adrian Robinson to take the bulk of the snaps at both OLB positions.
Worilds fared a bit better against the run in 2011, but he isn't at that point, either. His lack of time on the field this off-season will hold him back, and it seems realistic to think Carter - and not Worilds - will be the primary back-up to Harrison come Week 1.
Worilds is the more physically gifted of the two, and this really is a critical season for him in terms of his development. Harrison's contract and the decisions to be made in regards to the salary cap next season paint clouds on his future landscape. Worilds needs to be ready to play if he wants to fight Carter off from his spot.