By Matthew Marczi
As those who have followed my articles here at Steelers Depot are likely aware, I prefer to write and approach topics from a certain angle. I like to take what I see on film and what I know about the Pittsburgh Steelers organization and its habit in order to objectively formulate what I believe the likely outcome to be.
Rarely do I write anything that is clearly and solely my opinion about what I personally would do; in other words, most of what I do is trying to guess what the general manager will do, not playing the general manager myself.
This will not be one of those articles, so consider this my advice column for the front office.
Assure Jason Worilds his starting spot and re-sign him.
This would be my main priority during this offseason. Worilds spoke to ESPN’s Scott Brown yesterday that he is open to re-signing with the team ahead of the official start of free agency on March 11—that is, if he’s assured that he will be a starter.
That is a more than reasonable request for a former second-round draft pick entering his fifth season. He spent his first three seasons playing behind James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, and was often snake-bitten out of opportunities to start due to injuries of his own.
In 2011, when Harrison missed four games due to an orbital bone fracture, Worilds also missed the same four games with a hamstring injury. The Steelers settled for a very uninspiring four-game stint with Lawrence Timmons at outside linebacker. In 2012, while still recovering from a significant wrist surgery, the starting spot for the first few games in place of Harrison went to Chris Carter.
Quite simply, Worilds has never had the consistent playing time to either prove himself or learn the game through experience. That is until this year, during which he made 11 starts after being humiliated by having Jarvis Jones start over him for four weeks.
When Worilds took over the left outside linebacker spot for Woodley after his injury, he literally took over the spot. As in he made the left outside linebacker spot Jason Worilds’ spot. As in when Woodley came back, he played on the right side, and when Jones came into the game, Woodley came off the field instead of Worilds.
Let me be clear: I do not believe that the second-half performance that Worilds turned in this past season was a fluke by any means. I truly believe that he simply finally ‘got it’. Success breeds confidence. Once he got his pass-rushing spin move working, he used it frequently and with confidence—and with success.
Worilds finished the season with eight sacks, and seven of them came from Week Nine and on—recalling that he missed the final game of the season—so he had seven sacks in his final eight games of the year. That span also includes 16 of his 21 quarterback hurries, and 20 of his league-leading 21 quarterback hits.
That’s all fine and good, but the true beauty of Worilds’ improvement was not in the passing game, but rather the significant strides that he took playing the run. Quite honestly, he looked like Harrison at times out there playing against the run. 63 tackles is a very nice season total for a 3-4 outside linebacker in 16 games. Woodley has never had 63 tackles. Worilds did that in 15 games and 11 starts.
More importantly, if you re-sign Worilds now, he becomes your future, and he has a brighter future than Woodley does right now. Worilds will soon be 26 and is only now emerging, with legitimate room for growth.
Woodley, who will be 30 in early November, has very serious concerns with chronic, repetitive soft tissue injuries that keep him off the field for stretches at a time and limit his performance when he returns, as we saw once again in 2013. These injuries increase the likelihood of recurrence the more they take place.
None the less, I would advocate retaining Woodley for this season and starting him at right outside linebacker, with Worilds at left, because I do not believe that Jones is ready to be an everyday starter. If or when he is ready to start at some point this year, it will be at Woodley’s expense.