Worilds no longer on outside looking in at linebacker
Four-year veteran to play on right side
May 31, 2013 12:00 PM
Jason Worilds working out in training camp in 2011.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The long line of succession at right outside linebacker has been consistently good to great for the Steelers these past 30 years, with a few exceptions.
There was Mike Merriweather and Greg Lloyd and Chad Brown and Joey Porter and James Harrison, along with some exceptions like Carlos Emmons and Greg Carr.
Today, there is Jason Worilds, the latest to fill one of the most star-studded positions on the Steelers in three decades. He does not want to join the small list of exceptions.
The job is his and there is absolutely no pressure on him, unless you count this: As a second-round draft pick in his fourth season, it is his first chance to win a starting job; this is the final year of his contract; he follows in the footsteps of Harrison, the Super Bowl hero, five-time Pro Bowl starter and former NFL defensive player of the year.
Oh, and this: The Steelers thought so much of Worilds they tried to bring Harrison back, only he balked at their offer to reduce his salary and then joined the Cincinnati Bengals.
And this, too: The Steelers used their first draft pick, the 17th overall, to select outside linebacker Jarvis Jones of Georgia. It was the first time they chose an outside linebacker in the first round in 22 years.
No pressure at all.
"It's just the Steelers way," Worilds said. "One outside linebacker leaves, another comes in. It was the same way when I came in, the same way when Chris Carter came in."
Really, though, it is not. The Steelers did not draft Jones, as former personnel man Tom Donahoe might say, to lead the band at halftime. Unless he's a Huey Richardson-like bust, or injuries alter the path, Jones will play right outside linebacker -- maybe not start there this year but surely by 2014.
All Worilds can do is play, and maybe show some other team that he can start for them in 2014.
"I come out here and put my best foot forward and let the decision-makers make the decisions," Worilds said.
The chief decision-maker, Mike Tomlin, did not turn to Worilds last season when Harrison could not play after August knee surgery. He chose Chris Carter instead. Carter started three games.
The reason Tomlin did not select Worilds to fill in while Harrison awaited his return was a left wrist injury that required surgery before these spring practices a year ago. That surgery left Worilds on the sideline and his wrist still weak in training camp than an outside linebacker in the NFL needs.
"It was tough, a little worse than what we expected,'' said Worilds, who is 6 foot 2 and about 255 pounds. "Fortunately, I was able to play the whole season."
Because of injuries to LaMarr Woodley, Worilds started three games at left outside linebacker and played in other games in which Woodley could not finish. He played 435 snaps and had five sacks, just one behind co-leaders Harrison and Lawrence Timmons. His sacks-per-play percentage was higher than any other linebacker. He also started seven games for an injured Woodley in 2011 and had four sacks.
Unless Jones pulls a Maurkice Pouncey and his preseason play demands that he start, Worilds has a chance to take that part-time role and show he can handle it on a full-time basis. For the first time in his four seasons, he does not find himself between a rock (Woodley) and a hard place (Harrison). The only way he was going to play in his first three seasons would be if one of those two couldn't, and that's pretty much what happened.
"As a competitor, yeah, that's going to make anybody upset," Worilds said. "That's in anything you do. Naturally, not being able to come in and put my sword in, so to speak, was frustrating. But it was also an opportunity to get better."
He finally has that opportunity in his fourth season, and he can only hope it goes as well as the first opportunity Keenan Lewis had in his fourth season. Also a backup his first three years, Lewis became a starting cornerback last season and played well enough to land a five-year, $26 million contract as a free agent with New Orleans.
In the meantime, Worilds' play at right outside linebacker naturally will be measured against his predecessor's.
"I'm not James Harrison," Worilds protested. "When Jason Worilds steps on the field, anyone who expects James Harrison is fooling themselves."