Since the 1970s, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been known for their tenacious defense, and their great tradition of linebackers. Jack Lambert, who played middle linebacker, has always been the perfect image of Pittsburgh’s gritty style of defense. However, most of the Steelers’ great linebackers have played on the outside.
Lambert’s fellow teammate, Jack Ham, was the first to bring major success to Pittsburgh’s outside linebacker position. Though Ham may have been a bit overshadowed by Lambert and the rest of the Steel Curtain defense, his eight consecutive Pro Bowls (1973-80) and six consecutive First-Team All-Pro selections (1974-79) earned him four Super Bowl rings and a bronze bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Later on in the 1990s, Pittsburgh transitioned from a 4-3 defensive scheme to a 3-4. It was at this time that Greg Lloyd made his presence known and revitalized the Steelers’ defensive dominance. Lloyd, a five-time Pro Bowler and a three-time First-Team All-Pro, tallied 53.5 career sacks in the black and gold and helped Pittsburgh make a trip to the Super Bowl in the 1995 season.
While playing alongside Lloyd, Jason Gildon left his mark with the Steelers by becoming the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks with 77. Gildon also represented Pittsburgh in three Pro Bowls (2000-02).
After Lloyd came Joey Porter a couple of years later. Just like Ham and Lloyd, Porter was selected to multiple Pro Bowls while playing in the Steel City (2002, 2004-05). The Steelers’ pass rush was heavily dependent on Porter during his eight years in Pittsburgh, and the 60 sacks that he racked up while playing for the franchise proved that. Porter was also an important factor in Pittsburgh’s run to victory in Super Bowl XL.
The Steelers’ most recent monster on the outside was James Harrison. The 2008 Defensive Player of the Year became arguably the best pass rusher in the league during his 10 years with Pittsburgh. His 64 sacks puts him right behind Gildon as the Steelers’ second all-time leading sacker. Harrison, a four-time All-Pro and a five-time Pro Bowler, also helped bring a Lombardi Trophy to the Steelers’ organization.
Now that Harrison is no longer a Steeler, outside linebacker Jason Worilds is expected to step up to the plate and continue Pittsburgh’s hell-raising play on the outer edge of the defense. Worilds will be entering his fourth season in the league in 2013. Last year, Worilds recorded a career-high five sacks, and started only three games.
As seen throughout their history, the success of the Steelers’ defense is greatly dependent upon the play of their outside linebackers. Worilds has a lot to live up to now that he is next in line to be another great pass rusher for Pittsburgh. However, it is not etched in stone that Worilds will be the heir apparent. There still is a strong possibility that the Steelers will select a pass rusher in this year’s draft in attempts to give Worilds some competition and the team some much-needed depth.
From my point of view, with the experience that Worilds already has with this defense and the steady improvement that he has shown, this is his position to lose. Worilds does not need to let his chance at greatness slip through his fingers.
Clyde A. Speller is an NFL writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @ClydeASpeller, or add him to your network on Google