While the argument could be made that James Harrison‘s health had forced the Pittsburgh Steelers to get used to life without him last season, this is the year they have to find his full-time replacement. It’s no short task, but luckily for the Steelers they aren’t short on options either.
Competing for the opening left by the release of Harrison will be Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones; both are early round draft picks with a lot to prove. Worilds was selected with 52nd overall pick in the 2010 draft, while Jones was selected more recently in the 2013 draft with the Steelers’ first-round selection, 17th overall. With that being said, Worilds obviously has the edge in experience, both in the NFL and more importantly in a Dick LeBeau defense. While Jones has no experience in the NFL, or a LeBeau defense, the system they ran in Georgia (where Jones played his college ball) bares some resemblance — so much so that many pundits felt Jones could find no better fit in the NFL than the Steelers.
In making the case for Worilds to start it has to be taken into account just how complex the LeBeau defense is. Rookies rarely, if ever, start and usually take somewhere in the neighborhood of two to three years of development before seeing regular playing time. For example, Worilds only has 10 starts to his credit in his three years with the Steelers. Most of this has to do with playing behind perennial Pro-Bowlers in Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, but is it not a bit odd that a former second-round pick averages less than five starts a season through his first three?
The perceived problem with starting Worilds is his lack of production to this point in his career. In 42 games Worilds has only tallied a paltry 10 sacks, but as I’ve mentioned he only started ten of those games. Also, Worilds was only on the field for little over 50 percent of the team’s defensive snaps last season. With that in mind, a five sack season in which Worilds was only on the field for about 50 percent of the team’s snaps isn’t horrible; it also has me curious as to whether he can reach the 10 sack mark in an increased role playing maybe 80 or so percent of the team’s snaps. It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility.
More realistically I see the snaps at ROLB being split at the 70-30 percent mark, with Worilds being on the 70 end of things. It’s certainly how things should play out, anyways.
You can follow J.D. Burke on Twitter @JDBurkeOV.