Despite not appearing very competitive at points during 2012, competition is about to become the name of the game when the Pittsburgh Steelers begin organized team functions in preparation of the 2013 NFL regular season.
Since the team parted ways with legendary pass rusher James Harrison, who has since signed with the rival Cincinnati Bengals, many expected the team to address his vacated position on the right side of the defense through the draft. The moans for Georgia's Jarvis Jones were met with agreement by the Steelers front office, and the team selected him when he fell to them at the 17th spot.
Under the collective bargaining agreement, every draft pick is offered a four-year contract, except first-rounders. Players selected in the first-round have option year clauses in their contracts, thus adding to the need to hit on first round picks, not to mention the want to involve first-rounders early to get the maximum use out of their five-year deals.
However great the want, the Steelers will not simply start him as a rookie just because.
Pittsburgh Head coach Mike Tomlin:
"I think it's a daunting task for rookies to start in any system and play and perform well."
"Obviously it is difficult when you have established veteran players like we have with a lot of continuity. We are not going to close the door on him or anyone else on earning an opportunity, and that is what this is about -- people taking advantage of opportunities. So he'll be given that."
Jones will probably always play like he did at Georgia --with a chip on his shoulder because the problem with his neck has become a pain in the butt. He stared in the face of those who told him his spinal stenosis diagnosis would prevent him from materializing any serious football aspirations. The Steelers are banking on him to bring the same intensity and drive to a roster who could use a little of both; but he will earn his spot like everyone else.
Linebackers coach Keith Butler is keeping the rookie in perspective with his new teammates:
"He's been very productive. He's going to come in and compete, but he's not going to be given the position. Jason Worilds is here. He's the next guy up since James has left, and I expect Jason to be better than he ever has been."
Worilds isn't the only linebacker who has been chomping at the bit since Harrison was released.
Chris Carter had earned the primary backup role behind Harrison prior to 2012, while Worilds missed all of training camp rehabbing from injury. Carter ended up hurt himself, leaving mid-season on injured reserve. He has two seasons left on his contract, but with little dead money remaining on his deal, he could be viewed as expendable when final cuts are made.
During training camp last season, Adrian Robinson earned himself a spot on the final 53-man roster, when there wasn't much of an opening or official position competition, after being signed as an undrafted rookie camp body. He remained on the team all year, though his playing time was limited. Both the player and the team are anxious to see what kind of progress he has made in 12 months.
For now, Worilds will retain the starting role; but retaining it beyond today is his responsibility. Just because the team isn't naming Jones the starter now, doesn't mean they won't be by the time the season starts.