LB shuffle dominates week

James Harrison returned but LaMarr Woodley didn't. Lawrence Timmons played outside linebacker again, but this time in Woodley's position rather than Harrison's. And Jason Worilds made his first NFL start.

The Steelers followed the script outlined by Coach Mike Tomlin and built their plan "around the healthy men" and went at it with the Baltimore Ravens.

For the record, the Steelers ended up starting Harrison and Worilds outside, and Timmons and Larry Foote inside.

But Stevenson Sylvester also played significant snaps at inside linebacker in the base defense, with Timmons moving back outside and Worilds exiting the game on such occasions.

And the standard was once again the standard in what became a hard-fought, 23-20 loss, one that included three sacks and a forced fumble by Harrison.

What transpired at Heinz Field last Sunday night capped a challenging week for the linebackers, given what they had gone through merely to field a starting foursome.

The page symbolically turned from New England to Baltimore with Tomlin's weekly press conference. Although only Doug Legursky was ruled out at this early juncture, Tomlin included linebackers Harrison, James Farrior, Worilds and Woodley among those in various states of disrepair.

Three of those guys are starters, but Tomlin wasn't deterred.

"We will get an assessment on some of the injuries as we proceed," he said. "We will factor those in but we don't care about those things.

"The Pittsburgh Steelers will be there on Sunday."

Sylvester, a second-year pro, had been there the previous Sunday when he made his first NFL start at inside linebacker.

"I made a lot of mistakes," Sylvester said. "I was just antsy and excited to be in there with this great defense. I had some good feedback, little things I can fix."

Harrison, out for the previous four games following orbital bone surgery, returned to practice but maintained he had yet to be cleared medically to play, something he didn't anticipate happening until Friday or Saturday if at all.

"It feels better than it did after I hurt it, that's for sure," Harrison said.

Worilds, who likewise hadn't played since Oct. 2 in Houston, made it through a full practice on his balky quad.

This too, was significant.

"I definitely took a step in the right direction," he said.

Foote, a veteran who had been starting ever since Timmons was shifted outside to replace Harrison, acknowledged the uncertainty at the position but didn't sweat it.

"Our linebackers were looking healthy today," Foote said. "We have a lot of talent in here. The Steelers have been doing it for years, bringing quality guys in here that can play."

Harrison, Farrior (calf) and Woodley practiced on a limited basis. Rookie Chris Carter, forced into action when Woodley (hamstring) went down against the Patriots, vowed to be ready if called upon again.

Carter's most memorable snap against New England had been a neutral zone infraction on third-and-2 from the Steelers' 7-yard line with 4:21 remaining during the drive on which the Pats pulled to within 23-17.

But he, too, wasn't deterred.

"Our coaches, especially this week, they're coming up to me, 'Get ready to go, it's that time,'" Carter said. "That's the mentality I'm going into this week with and I'm going to train with every single day, every snap in practice."

Woodley was officially ruled out, Farrior would be a pregame inactive, and Harrison would start. And Worilds, a second-year pro and a former second-round draft choice, would make his first NFL start.

"Whoever's up next, we trust they'll go in there and perform," Worilds said.

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