The coaches are sticking with Worilds as the right side starter through the beginning of camp, mainly because of his tenure with the team; although he does possess skills worth 2nd round consideration in the 2010 NFL Draft. Obviously, Jones' first-round selection defines the Steelers want for him to be a part of the franchise's future; but by similar thinking, they would still want the same for Worilds.
Worilds is playing the final season of his original rookie contract. He will be an unrestricted free-agent following the season. Not only does he have to beat out Jones, but Worilds will also have to beat out fellow veterans Chris Carter and Adrian Robinson. If he can beat out all of his competition and maintain his starting position beyond opening day, would the selection of Jones have been a waste? If Worilds holds his job all year, would the team really let him walk next year just to validate their selection of Jones?
Either way, Worilds is guaranteed to bring his best effort to training camp, because he has so much to lose with an inadequate performance; but he may not have to win his positional battle outright to earn a second contract with the team who drafted him.
This season is definitely an audition for Worilds. The Steelers have given him all the time they can afford, and they need to know what they have in him. He has shown flashes of starting material at times, but injuries and inconsistency have clouded any projections of his future. The team knows what they think he can be, but they need to see it to believe it. However, they may not just be looking at his ability to play the right side.
While strong arguments have been made suggesting Worilds become an interior linebacker project, at this point of the game being his final obligatory season it is too late to attempt such a major mindset adjustment and honestly expect serious results; but Worilds has played another linebacker position in the past, and proved to be as capable there as he is at his projected 2013 roster spot -- the left side where LaMarr Woodley resides.
The Steelers already know what they have in Woodley. When he's on top of his game, he's one of the best in the league at his position. Unfortunately, he hasn't been as sharp over the past two seasons. Unnamed team sources were quoted criticizing Woodley's conditioning and frequent injuries. Whether the sources of those statements were valid or not, the weight they carried through the media proves they at least matched the consensus of those who followed the team regularly.
Woodley had reportedly been hard at work to be in his best shape for the season, although he denies his efforts have anything to do with those critical quotes. Jonathan Dwyer faced similar rebuke from head coach Mike Tomlin directly, in front of his teammates, following the end of the 2011 season. Dwyer responded by showing up in much better shape, and won the starting job by season's end. Perhaps the comments about Woodley were leaked to invoke the same type of inspiration. Regardless, under this year's theme of positional battles, everyone has to prove to the team they are necessary for the future.
Worilds may lose out to Jones by the beginning of the regular season, or he may not play strong enough to discourage the team from going with Jones in 2014 anyway. However, should Woodley have another disappointing season or spend a majority of it in the trainer's room, Worilds may still have the opportunity to earn a contract as a 2014 replacement for Woodley.
Woodley's contract is still quite gaudy, made worse this off-season when the team was forced to restructure his contract to clear cap space. Simply by doing so would imply the team expected him to be around. To release Woodley would hurt from a salary cap standpoint, but the team could possibly use him as trade bait next year. Trading him would be the most likely option, should the team decide to go with Worilds and Jones as their future starters.
Ideally, Woodley will play like a younger version of himself, and whoever plays across from him will play like Steelers linebackers are expected to.
It will be interesting to see how Worilds situation plays out, thanks to the drafting of Jones.