Now that we have completed our look at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 90-man roster heading into OTAs, it’s time to take a look back at the team’s 53-man roster from last year’s regular season, for the purpose of revisiting the contributions of the players that are no longer with the team, and whether or not those contributions have been adequately replaced.
Roster turnover is just a natural fact of today’s NFL, which have only become more prominent since the advent of free agency more than two decades ago. It’s very rare for a team to return all 11 starters on one side of the ball from one year to the next, let alone to do so for both the offense and defense.
The Steelers are certainly no exception to that rule, and they figure to have a number of lineup changes from 2014 to 2015—more so than usual, perhaps, with the retirement of three starters on the defensive side of the ball alone.
With respect to the biggest departure in terms of how it will affect the 2015 roster, I think that the retirement of outside linebacker Jason Worilds has been the most significant departure from the previous season, although it’s worth noting that he would surely have gone to another team in free agency had he not retired.
Last year was Worilds’ fifth NFL season, during which he played under a transition tag. It was also the first season in which he was a full-time starter, having briefly been replaced on the right side the year before and then ultimately switching to the left.
Over the course of the last two seasons, the former second-round draft pick led the Steelers with 15.5 sacks, including 7.5 in his final season. While it can be debated whether or not he was playing at a high level, it can’t be debated that this span represented the best of his career, where things finally seemed to click with advanced playing time.
Worilds made strides in every area of this game during this time period, from rushing the passer (by finally harnessing the spin move he’d been working on since entering the league), dropping into coverage (recording his first interception), and against the run (averaging over 60 tackles).
While Worilds may not have brought relentless, consistent pressure, the pressure that he did get often resulted in contact with the quarterback, as he registered a number of hits that altered throws beyond his sack total.
He has been the team’s best pass rusher over the course of the past two seasons, and whether or not they have adequately replaced him remains to be seen. They have invested two first-round picks at the position in the past three years, including rookie Bud Dupree, who figures to eventually take over Worilds’ spot
For a team that only posted 33 total sacks last season, however, they will be tasked with replacing more than a fifth of that total figure that they got from one player. In order to improve, several components of this defense need to have career years.