Steelers' Jason Worilds gets another chance as a starter.
By Ray Fittipaldo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Most first- and second-round draft choices in the NFL receive preferential treatment. They get more opportunities to impress coaches than lower-round picks or free agents, and their path to a starting position is nearly paved for them.
But, if you tell that to Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds, he will laugh in your face.
Drafted in the second round out of Virginia Tech in 2010, Worilds patiently waited his turn to be a full-time starter behind James Harrison for three seasons. Then, one month after Harrison was released, the Steelers drafted his replacement, Jarvis Jones, with the No. 17 overall selection in April.
"It's tough in the sense that I played behind the  defensive player of the year, and, when it's your time to play, they draft a first-rounder," Worilds said. "It's been tough."
That was the hand Worilds was dealt. Now the deck has been shuffled, and there is a new hand to play. In the middle of his fourth season -- the final year of his rookie contract -- he has a second chance to prove himself.
Six weeks after the coaches named Jones the starter at right outside linebacker, they are going back to Worilds in hopes that he can operate in the team's defensive system in a more effective manner than Jones, who, in addition to failing to provide sacks, missed assignments and was caught out of position in his limited playing time in a loss Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.
Worilds is viewed by the coaches as the more dependable player.
"It's about me just trying to be an unselfish player," Worilds said. "I think for us, to be where we have to be defensively, we have to put other guys in position to make plays. I've done that. If I do that and everyone else does that, the plays will come."
Jones has not done that consistently enough and understands why he was demoted.
"They want me to be more technique-sound," Jones said. "I understand the things I have to do. It's a challenge. I just have to keep on working."
Jones was named a starter in the first place because the coaches were not enamored of Worilds, who started seven games in 2011 and three games in 2012 when LaMarr Woodley was injured.
Playing as a rookie in Dick LeBeau's defense is difficult. Just ask former first-round pick Troy Polamalu, who did not become a starter until his second season. Or Woodley, a second-round pick in 2007 who also did not start until his second year.
"There is a definitely learning curve," Jones said. "I think everyone knows that. Before I even got here, it was said to play in Coach LeBeau's defense is a challenge. I just have to keep chopping wood, stay in the film room, stay in my playbook and keep learning.
"You're always one play away from playing, so that's the way I look at it. I respect this game. I love it. I'm going to be ready for my opportunity."
The Steelers want dependability, but some production from their right outside linebacker would be nice, too. Worilds has one sack, eight pressures and seven tackles in seven games. Jones, still searching for his first sack, has had three pressures and 13 tackles. By comparison, left outside linebacker Woodley has five sacks, 13 pressures and 15 tackles.
"It's hard," Jones said. "I think it'll come. After the first [sack], the other ones will start rolling in.
"Nothing in the NFL is given to you. We still have a lot of ballgames to play, still a lot of plays to be made. You have to stay focused and take advantage of your opportunities."
Worilds is looking forward to the playing time. He will be a free agent after the season and has a chance to showcase himself not only to the Steelers but also for other teams.
"I think it's always important to put it on tape regardless," Worilds said. "You want to be something your teammates can look at it and say this guy gave it his all. I'm just trying to take steps forward. I've always had a few little things here and there that hold me back. Just getting on the field and getting those reps, I'm trying to make the most of it."
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1.
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