The Steelers long have followed a simple philosophy when it came to putting together their football team: Draft well, identify their own players worth keeping, know when to let older players go and supplement with the occasional free agent.
They accomplished a great deal following that credo through the years, adding two more Lombardi trophies and a third Super Bowl visit. Lately, it would seem they have stumbled in a few of those areas. One would be in not keeping the good, young players looking for their next contracts.
Among those who left as free agents this year were receiver Mike Wallace and cornerback Keenan Lewis. Those two might just be exceptions to the rule the way Chris Hope and Nate Washington were from the recent past. Or it could signal an early trend. Several young Steelers will become unrestricted free agents after this season, players who in the past might have earned contract extensions by now. Three were high draft picks.
Ryan Clark: Steelers can expect 'dog fight' in Cleveland
Ryan Clark Jerricho Cotchery and other players talk about what the Steelers can expect in their game against the Browns on Sunday. (Video by Lake Fong; 11/20/2013)
They include receiver Emmanuel Sanders, linebacker Jason Worilds and defensive linemen Ziggy Hood and Steve McLendon.
Worilds might be the most intriguing of the bunch. He was not a popular pick when the Steelers drafted him in the second round from Virginia Tech in 2010 ahead of Sean Lee from Upper St. Clair and Penn State. There was no room for Worilds to start behind James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. Then when there was room because of injuries to both, he had wrist surgery.
But now healthy and with Harrison gone, he not only starts but he also regained his job at right outside linebacker from rookie and first-round draft choice Jarvis Jones. Playing the past game and a half on the left side for an injured Woodley, Worilds looked like a young Woodley.
With Woodley appearing ready to return to play Sunday in Cleveland after healing from his calf injury, even veteran linebacker Larry Foote believes the Steelers might have a decision on their hands. It’s Foote’s opinion that Worilds plays better at left outside linebacker — Woodley’s position — than he does at right outside linebacker.
“I know Worilds moved to the left side and in college that was his position, that’s where he rushed from, the left side,” Foote said Tuesday morning in his weekly radio interview on 93.7 The Fan.
“When Woodley gets back, there’s going to be some discussion. Is Woodley going to move over [to the right]? Are they going to alternate a little bit? I know Woodley doesn’t mind wherever he rushes at. Some guys only rush good from one side.”
Foote, on injured reserve, cannot play this season but attends practices and meetings with his teammates and has always had a good idea of what’s going on.
“I’m just assuming, I don’t know,” he said of a possible move with the outside linebackers. “But I’m in the meeting room last week, after the performance against Buffalo, we were saying that when Woodley went down, Worilds went over there and he had his best game against Buffalo and he continued it this past week.”
Playing on the left Sunday against Detroit, Worilds had his fourth sack, seven solo tackles and three quarterback pressures to give him 15, most of any of the linebackers.
It’s not likely that Worilds will start at left outside linebacker Sunday with a healthy Woodley, who leads the team with five sacks. But with Jones also stepping up his play, there’s a chance the rotation among the three could pick up with Worilds spelling Woodley a little more when Jones enters the game.
The team also installed a defense at midseason in which all three play at the same time, and deployed that on occasion.
“He has played well,” coach Mike Tomlin said of Worilds. “He has had some success from the left side. I haven’t asked him. That might be a good question to ask him in regards to his level of comfort. He has been productive and I am open to all possibilities in terms of moving players around to maximize our rush specifically in that instance.”
Woodley is signed through 2016. He will earn an $8 million salary next year and count for $13.6 million against the team salary cap.
Worilds earns $630,000 this year and will become a free agent in March if he does not re-sign with the Steelers.
No-huddle not a no-brainer
Tomlin explained how he decides to use the no-huddle offense and what some of the drawbacks are to using it.
“We have a certain scripted set of questions that we ask, if you will, if we choose to employ it as a weapon. If enough things are favorable for us, then obviously it’s something we’ll consider, work on, prepare and utilize,” Tomlin said.
“You’ve also got to understand that you’re not going to be very multiple. There is limited communication when you’re snapping the football and not huddling to communicate.”
There also is the spy in the sky — the technology television uses to hear what the quarterback says at the line of scrimmage, which means calling out the plays in the no-huddle.
“There are audio things to be concerned about, quite frankly,” Tomlin said.
“Technology has changed the way that that is viewed. Television copy of no-huddle offenses has a lot of information on their video. It’s something that has been going on in football for a number of years, so you’ve got to be very cautious about employing it, how much you employ it, how you change your verbal communication. There are a lot of things that are capable of limiting your ability to run no-huddle besides your willingness or your desire to.”
It is particularly more evident in nationally televised games.
“Certainly, particularly in prime-time television games when there are boom mics and stuff that work on those cables above the field,” Tomlin said.
Steelers add former Panther
The Steelers signed former Pitt running back Ray Graham to their practice squad after working him out at their facility. They released running back George Winn, who signed to their practice squad Oct. 22.
Graham, a rookie, was undrafted and signed with the Houston Texans, where he spent time on their practice squad until he was promoted to the 53-man roster for two games (he did not play).
The Texans waived him when they claimed linebacker Ricky Sapp from the New York Jets Friday.
Ed Bouchette: email@example.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.