I will admit that I was somewhat perplexed when the Steelers selected Jason Worilds in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft. It was nothing against the former Virginia Tech defensive end, but I assumed that Pittsburgh’s brass would have tried to shore up their inside linebacker position with a guy like Sean Lee from Penn State.
Nevertheless, I did understand why Worilds was selected with the 52nd overall pick.
James Harrison was on the verge of turning 32, and LaMarr Woodley had yet to ink his massive contract worth $61.5 million. The Steelers’ brass appeared to want to hedge their bets if either Harrison’s play declined with age, or Woodley’s play priced them out of the market for his services when his rookie contract expired.
Worilds has racked up a total of 10.0 sacks since he entered league, which for a backup and special teams player is quite productive. While the linebacker did not necessarily “wow” anybody with his play as a backup and occasional spot-starter (10 career starts), he finally appeared to have his best chance to win a starting job after Harrison was released this spring.
To their credit however, Pittsburgh’s brass were not going to simply hand the starting position over to the soon-to-be fourth year linebacker. In fact, the Steelers’ front office instead added more competition for Worilds when they selected Jarvis Jones after he fell to them in the first round of the most recent NFL Draft.
Despite the selection of Jones, many assumed that Worilds would start in Harrison’s place based on the fact that rookies on the defensive side of the ball are forced to ride the “pine pony” during their first seasons at the professional level. Unfortunately for Worilds, Jones’ play during the preseason has made the competition much closer than most of us anticipated.
Jones has illustrated a “nose for the football” during preseason play, and has been one of the nicest preseason surprises on the defensive side of the ball. While Worilds’ play has not been terrible, although his personal foul penalties against the Giants hurt his team, Jones has played as well as any rookie linebacker during his first year with the Steelers since Kendrell Bell back in 2001.
Jones injured his chest during Pittsburgh’s last preseason game against the Chiefs though, and his status for Thursday’s game against Carolina remains uncertain. If Jones is limited at the beginning of the year, then Worilds must step up and produce at the right outside linebacker position.
Even if Worilds is not part of Pittsburgh’s future plans, a strong showing by him in his contract year will definitely make him a viable commodity when he hits the free agent market next March. Plus, it would not hurt if Worilds’ emergence would help the Steelers keep Jones and Woodley fresh throughout the regular season. A three-man rotation at outside linebacker would do everybody some good, and all three players would be able to limit the “wear and tear” on their bodies.
Until Jones can return to the lineup though, the starting job will belong to Worilds. As it stands however, the window of opportunity is closing by the day for the linebacker. Thus, he must make a splash this fall if he wishes to stick around in Pittsburgh beyond the 2013 campaign.
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