Ever since the Pittsburgh Steelers parted ways with the legendary James Harrison, lofty expectations for 2013 have been aimed at fourth-year player, Jason Worilds. As Mark Kaboly pointed out on Twitter this morning, 2013 will be Worilds best chance for success, since it is the first time he has been able to participate in an entire off-season program.
#Steelers LB Jason Worilds have yet to have a true and full offseason (2010 rookie year, 2011 lockout, 2012 wrist injury).— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) March 10, 2013
Worilds was taken in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft; and like most defensive rookies in Pittsburgh, he would have little opportunity to break in during his first season, although he did see action in 14 of the team's 16 regular season games, finishing the year with two defensive tackles and two sacks. He saw most of his action on special teams, although he spent time filling in for an injured LaMarr Woodley. Worilds' two missed games came as a result of shoulder and knee injuries.
Everyone suffered from the lockout in 2011, which prevented all players from participating in off-season conditioning programs and organized team activities. The lack of the extra work was evident all season as injuries - especially hamstring and fitness issues - affected every single team in the league. Worilds actually started seven games for Pittsburgh in 2011, but he only appeared in 12 regular season games, as he dealt with a quad injury which forced him to miss four consecutive games.
In 2012, Worilds was forced to miss the entire pre-season program with a wrist injury, which had originally lost him the second spot on the ROLB depth chart to Chris Carter. Carter performed like a second-year player, and was eventually lost to injured reserve. Worilds finished out the 2012 season as the primary backup to both outside positions, and even finished second on the team in sacks behind Lawrence Timmons during a disappointing 2012 campaign. Worilds only started three contests this year, but he appeared in all 16 regular season games.
Whether the Steelers choose to seek Harrison's replacement in the draft or in free-agency, few have been able to step into prominent roles in Dick LeBeau's defense in their first years. It would take a Herculean effort to move the Titanic Worilds off of the top of the depth chart; or another Worilds-injury.
If Worilds is able to be productive in his first full season as a starter, he could entice the Steelers to offer him a new contract when his rookie deal expires following the 2013 season. However, should the team draft an eventual starter, Worilds could simply be a placeholder and mentor to the heir-apparent, regardless of how well he plays. He could become a cap casualty when he becomes an unrestricted free-agent.
Worilds, more than any other player on the roster, has plenty to prove in Pittsburgh. Even if they choose to part ways after the season, he will need to prove to the rest of the league he is more than just a special teams and part-time-defensive contributor, if he wants to remain in the NFL. The easiest way to do so, is to win the Steelers starting job outright, leaving little doubt about the team making the right move by releasing Harrison.
Winning covers a multitude of sins.