With the news coming today from Ed Bouchette, that second-year man Chris Carter will start in his first NFL game in place of a still healing James Harrison -- and if he is to go about the business of hectoring Peyton Manning into forcing throws and wishing maybe he'd just retired -- he'll have a obstacle the size of Pike's Peak to deal with in Denver Broncos starting left tackle Ryan Clady.
Clady is, simply put, the kind of left tackle Steelers fans wish the team has had for years. The 12th overall pick in 2008, the 6-6, 315-pound Boise State product is as dominant a tackle as you'll find when healthy, which he appears to be after two-seasons of dealing with a nagging knee injury. Clady pretty much swallowed up Harrison during January's playoff meeting between the two teams and he is expected to have a big season in 2012.
USA Today picked Clady to be a one of their top comeback candidates for 2012: "last season, he allowed a career-high nine sacks and was flagged 12 times.
"Here's the thing, though: it's one thing to block for a traditional pocket passer like Kyle Orton ... It's something else entirely when you're asked to pass-block for Tim Tebow who a) struggled to read defenses, b) held the ball in the pocket for what felt like days, and c) and had a wind-up that even Byron Leftwich thought was protracted.
"With Peyton Manning and his precision offense now running the show in Denver, Clady should return to his old dominating self."
ESPN's Jeffri Chahida named Clady as the no. 4 most indispensible player in the entire league, saying, "We all know what quarterback Peyton Manning can do when healthy. But the Broncos don't want to find out how he'll fare if Clady is out of the lineup. Clady has played in two Pro Bowls in four seasons, and he's one of the best left tackles in the game. He'll also play a major role in determining whether or not Manning's surgically repaired neck becomes a bigger issue."
But Carter has had as impressive a training camp and preseason as any player on the defense and in a July profile, Gerry Dulac noted the added weight and strength Carter has put on, allowing him to hold his own against much larger lineman:
"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."
In August, I spoke with Carter -- as affable a young man as Harrison is ornery -- and he said his mental acuity for the game has developed tremendously over last year.
"Most definitely. I see plays coming before they come now which is something I couldn’t say last year – hell, I barely even knew what we were doing last year, [let alone] what the offense was doing. I honestly couldn’t even say I learned the playbook until maybe week six – I didn’t know why I was doing this, or what the guy next to me was doing – now I’m able to answer questions like that for myself and feel confident about my abilities."
He'll get quite a first test of those abilities Sunday night when he faces Clady.