As Pittsburgh Steelers training camp is set to begin, Behind the Steel Curtain takes a look at each position battle and how players at those positions are expected to perform.
PITTSBURGH -- It's been several years since the Steelers have gotten a strong pass rush from their outside linebackers, but with Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones penciled in as starters this year the club has a young, athletic pair that eventually could rival top tandems from years ago.
Worilds generally has underachieved since being selected in the second round during the 2010 NFL Draft, but after the Steelers dumped often-injured LaMarr Woodley they needed to re-sign Worilds and inked him for an astronomical $9.754 million contract for one season as their transition player. And the club has not been able to erase that cap hit with a multi-year contract. So, the Steelers are counting on Worilds to take his game to another level this year.
Worilds believes he has not gotten a fair chance to play so far in his career, but that will change this season. He has 18 sacks in four NFL seasons, including eight last year in 11 starts. Worilds had just 10 the previous two seasons (2011-12) and tallied eight total sacks. He had a strong second half last fall, like many Steelers, as the team overcame an 0-4 start to finish 8-8 for the second straight season.
For the Steelers to improve on those records and return to the playoffs, their defense will need to pick things up. The pass-rush from Worilds and second-year player Jones, the club's No. 1 pick last year, needs to step it up as well. Jones started eight of 14 games played, but had just one sack and no forced fumbles. He did have four pass breakups, but really didn't make much of an impact despite his reputation as a big-time playmaker.
Under the tutelage of former Steelers star Joey Porter, now a defensive assistant on the team, Jones could turn things around this fall. He'll need to be successful, because it isn't known if the Steelers can keep Worilds past this season. They will attempt to sign him to a multi-year deal this summer, but improvement from Jones would make losing Worilds a lot easier.
The Steelers also signed Arthur Moats to a free-agent contract this year, and the multi-talented fifth-year player could see time at both inside and outside linebacking spots. He also could be a long-term solution if Worilds is not re-signed. Moats was a solid player during four seasons in Buffalo, but the Steelers are hopeful for more this season.
Other outside linebackers on the Steelers roster are Chris Carter, Vic So'oto, rookie Howard Jones and rookie Jordan Zumwalt, a late-round draft pick from UCLA. So'oto has been with four previous teams, but he has only played 13 games since signing with Green Bay in 2011 and has been signed or released 13 times in some 16 months. He's always been among the final players cut each time, but will only be 27 when this season begins.
Carter has played 29 games in three seasons with the Steelers, but he hasn't been able to stay healthy and has been inconsistent when he has gotten some playing time. This is a crucial season for Carter and his future with the Steelers. He could make it again with solid special teams play and solid spot play, but he's a longer shot to make it this season due to the presence of Moats, So'oto and Zumwalt.