- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 17, 2009

PITTSBURGH | Tyrone Carter isn’t the player that Troy Polamalu is. Doesn’t pretend to be. There’s only one Troy Polamalu, Carter agrees, and not even a former college football defensive back of the year can replace him.

With Polamalu out for three to six weeks with a torn medial collateral ligament, the Pittsburgh Steelers will turn to the player who always seems to be there when needed. When safety Ryan Clark’s spleen was damaged by playing in the thin air of Denver two years ago, Carter helped replace him.

Not surprisingly, the Steelers are convinced that if there is one player who has the confidence and the toughness needed to fill in for one of the NFL’s best defensive players, it’s Carter.

This assignment isn’t easy, but Carter’s life hasn’t always been easy, either. Not with a son to raise while he was in high school, an idolized brother in prison and a wife who has been in a wheelchair for nearly four years.

“I have all the faith in the world in him,” Clark said.

Carter believes in himself, too, and it’s not like he hasn’t been through this before.

“You’re really only one play away from starting,” Carter said. “It’s not like in college, where you have redshirt freshmen and you’re three-deep. Here you’re two-deep, and you have to prepare like that. That’s what makes a professional.”

This is Carter’s 10th NFL season, which is a testimony to his perseverance and patience.

Carter also wasn’t the star, was the backup in a different sort of way, while growing up in Pompano Beach, Fla. His older brother, Tank, was the star, a big hitter who enjoyed the physicality of football.

The brothers were raised by grandparents who also brought up 13 other children. Carter was raising his own child, a son born while he was a high school junior, even before his grandmother pushed him to attend Minnesota, partly so he would avoid the temptations of street life. Tank didn’t make it to college, having dropped out of high school.

Carter excelled at Minnesota, winning the Jim Thorpe Award as college football’s best defensive back in 1999, but his size - 5-foot-9 and 195 pounds - dropped him to the fourth round of the NFL Draft.

He stayed played for the Vikings for three seasons, then went to the Jets for one. He hooked on with Pittsburgh midway through the 2004 season and has been there since, making four interceptions and 106 tackles while playing 73 games. The Steelers’ game Sunday in Chicago will be start No. 11.

Even when the Steelers made it to the Super Bowl in February 2006, Carter learned again the pressures of football can’t begin to compare to the reality of life.

Not long before that game, his wife, April, was paralyzed from the waist down during an ATV accident. The couple has a daughter, Tyra, who was born after the accident, one of Tyrone’s four children.

About the same time, Tank Carter was sentenced in Florida to six months in jail for driving with a suspended license.

However, he declined to report to jail in January and chose instead to accompany his younger brother during the Steelers’ playoff road run in which they won in Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver before beating Seattle in the Super Bowl in Detroit.

“That’s the brotherly bond we have,” Carter said.

When he finally reported, Tank Carter was given an additional 4 1/2 years prison time by a judge and is scheduled for release in October 2010. Still, Tank Carter told his brother it was worth it because he got to see his little brother win the Super Bowl.

Yes, the Steelers know Tyrone Carter doesn’t have Polamalu’s speed or big-play ability, but they’re not worried about him handling the job.

“Any time he’s ever stepped in, he’s done as good a job or a better job,” Polamalu said. “You couldn’t imagine there would be any drop-off.”

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