State Of The Steelers Linebackers – Could Worilds Really Be Slated To Move Inside?

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds is about to enter his third season since being drafted in the second round of the 2010 NFL draft. Several in Steeler Nation are still struggling to understand why inside linebackers Sean Lee or Navarro Bowman weren\’t the pick instead of Worilds. Linebackers coach Keith Butler was asked that very question during his press conference following the selection of Worilds and said, “We like those guys. We like Bowman, I especially like Sean Lee. But those guys are inside linebackers right now. And we have a pretty good quartet of guys at inside linebacker. Outside linebacker we need some depth on this football team at outside linebacker. And we need better special teams then we had last year and we think this guy can help us in that area quickly.” When asked what the Steelers liked best about Worilds, Butler replied, “Speed, but more than anything that he was fluid. He’s not a guy that you expect to stand up. A lot of guys you stand up early kind of struggle with opening their hips and dropping in pass coverage. That’s always the question we have on what we call “hybrids.” He was able to do things that we wanted him to do that we think he can do in this system. It was a matter of us projecting him in this system and I think he’s a good fit for us.”

So here we are now two years later and Worilds has played less than 600 snaps total on defense. He likely would not have even played that many had it not been for the injuries suffered last season by LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison. That being said, Worilds could have played quite a bit more had he not been sidelined with his own hamstring problems. He did show flashes last year on the left side while Woodley was sidelined, but also looked inconsistent as well, especially against the run.

Knowing that Woodley and Harrison will be the starters in 2012, how will Worilds get on the field in his third season? Sure, he can spell both players on the outside, but this is a second round draft pick entering his third season in the league now that we are talking about. One would expect him to start contributing in greater capacity outside of just special teams. Sure, 2012 could likely be the final year for Harrison, but that is not guaranteed, especially if he is able to bounce back in the quarterback pressure and sack department. He is signed through 2014 just in case.

Scout Dave-Te Thomas, who has been on a few of our recent podcast, suggested that Worilds could be making the move inside this year. Thomas and Worilds have the same agent, and Thomas is pretty convincing that this could happen. Does he know something the rest of us don\’t? Really there has been no real indication that Worilds will be moving inside though, but of course the fan base would be the last to know it. Worilds does have the idea measurables, and is reportedly a pretty smart kid, but for a blogger like myself to suggest that move could happen would be mere speculation. One thing to keep in mind though is that James Farrior, who was the Steelers BUCK linebacker since he arrived via free agency, was also an outside linebacker during his time with the New York Jets. The Jets pretty much gave up on Farrior, a former first round selection; after five seasons and he went on to have a great career inside for the Steelers. He of course was released just this offseason. Any guesses as to where Farrior went to college? Virginia, the same school that produced Worilds. Now can we draw any hard evidence from that alone? No, but it is a weird coincidence. Tin foil hats anyone? ETA: BRAIN FART!!!!!!!!! (Farrior – Virginia) (Worilds – Virginia Tech)

Not to be forgotten is that the Steelers also drafted Thaddeus Gibson and Stevenson Sylvester in 2010 as well. Gibson was another outside guy, while Sylvester an inside guy. Just last April they drafted Chris Carter, yet another hybrid outside guy. Gibson is the only player not to stick thus far and to hear head coach Mike Tomlin talk, they expect 2012 to be a jump year for Sylvester, who in my opinion is better suited for the MACK role than he is the BUCK role in the limited playing time I have to analyze him. That means he could be best suited as backing up Lawrence Timmons, who signed a long extension last offseason. Larry Foote, who is entering his final year under contract, is currently slated to start the season at the BUCK spot with Sylvester backing him up. When you look at the linebackers on the roster that are speculated to make the 53 at this point, you come up with seven (Woodley, Harrison, Timmons, Foote, Worilds, Carter, Sylvester). Odds are they will not carry more than nine when they break camp, so it is obvious that we can expect one, if not two, linebackers to be drafted next week. Likely one inside and one outside. Let\’s not forget that Mortty Ivy, Marshall McFadden, Brandon Hicks are all on the roster as well. While all three are considered dark horses, Harrison was one too at the beginning of his career.

When you look at the pre draft visitors the Steelers have had in leading up to the draft, you see four outside types and three inside types, not counting the local University of Pittsburgh players. The top round prospects on that list are of course Dont\’a Hightower, Nick Perry, Mychal Kendricks and Andre Branch. Realistically Hightower and Perry are the only first rounders according to several of the draftniks. The concerns with Hightower is that he is only an inside BUCK guy that lacks lateral agility and ability to drop and cover. There is no doubt he is always around the football though and makes splash plays. He could lack the versatility though to play outside, other than being an occasional edge rusher, and Butler has said in the past that young linebackers usually take two years to learn the system. Perry is a strong side defensive end that would have to be stood up as an outside linebacker in the 3-4. He too lacks prime agility, but does make up for it in explosion. He also has played on both sides.

General manager Kevin Colbert has been all over both of the Alabama pro days in March, so it is easy to point to Hightower as an easy target in the first round, but he has boom or bust written all over him due to his speed and lateral agility in my opinion. It would also likely take a full year at the very least to find that out, likely longer if the two-year Butler rule remains strict. Even though Hightower played in the 3-4 at Alabama, it would be hard to imagine him seeing the field his rookie season unless injuries occurred. Keep in mind that the Steelers have not drafted a “true” inside BUCK linebacker in the first round in the Super Bowl era. Coincidence or just damning evidence? Is Hightower that much of a can\’t miss prospect to end that string if he is still on the board when the Steelers pick? Based on the poll I ran recently, Steeler Nation seems to think so. I on the other hand am struggling with it being a slam dunk, but am not discounting it as a possibility either. Perhaps I just watched too much tape on him.

The damning thing that might make a Worilds move inside pretty much impossible is the current depth at outside linebacker. Who would the Steelers plug in if either Woodley or Harrison went down? We learned last year that it can\’t be Timmons, and Carter has very limited snaps to make one feel comfortable with him. Like Sylvester, it is hard to give a solid analysis of a player that has not seen the field much.

Depending on what round, and what type of linebacker is drafted early on, could tell us what the organization thinks of Worilds. Should Perry be the pick, it could signal that Worilds is slated to move inside in 2012 or out of town after 2012. Should Hightower be the pick, it could mean that Sylvester is not thought of as the heir apparent to Farrior and that Worilds will remain on the outside to eventually succeed Harrison.

One thing is for certain though, expect a few of the draft picks to be linebackers next weekend and I can\’t wait to hear Butler talk about what the future holds for Worilds during his press conference following the pick. Is he the next Farrior, the next Alonzo Jackson, the heir apparent to Harrison or somewhere in-between?

  • Fmaster69

    Worilds went to Virginia Tech, not Virginia…

  • Albeto Flores

    he’s aware of that

  • guest

    As a season ticket holder at Virginia Tech, I felt like the Steelers definitely reached for Worilds when they drafted him in the second round. I wanted him to return to VT for his senior season because it would have done him a world of good, no pun intended. Had he stayed in school, last year would have been his rookie season and expectations for him this season wouldn’t be quite so high. Regardless of expectations and what position he plays in the future, I do feel like Worilds can succeed. I hope he is a Steeler for many years to come.

  • Moving Worilds to ILB is an interesting conversation. Dave makes a great point, when he asks the question of how will Worilds get on the field. As a second round draft pick, entering his third season, he’s at a point where the team needs to see a return on it’s investment. The team may need to do what ever it takes to put it’s best four athletes on the field, at LB. Even if Worilds does end up becoming the eventual replacement to Harrison, would it be so bad if he knows how to play all four LB positions?

    If the team is going to try and transition an outside backer, to play inside, another possibility it Chris Carter. At least when it comes to measurables, Carter and Worilds are basically the same player.

  • Intropy

    It’s really hard to get a handle on Worilds. He’s sitting behind two of the best OLBs in the league, so why would he play? But he also hasn’t shown much when subbing in for injuries, and apparently little enough was thought of him to move Timmons to OLB last season.

  • Nolrog

    I don’t see Worilds as an ILB. I’m not sold on him at all, and think we’ll be looking for OLB high in the draft next year.

  • It’s hard to gauge his progress based on the 2011 season. He was already behind the eight ball, due to the lock out. The hamstring injuries only compounded that.

    Once/if Worilds is playing at the level that is expected of him, he will have plenty of opportunities for playing time. The goal for last year, was for Worilds to help reduce Woodley and Harrison’s snap count, each game.

  • Jprankster2005

    Good article but I hope Harrison plays out his contract and Worilds just takes more of a role maybe half of the snaps with him if Harrison’s under playing…… I belive Harrison won’t play out his contract because he wanted to get his restructured this yr. and they didn’t do that….. So they have some doubt he will finish it…… So when his play slips Worilds will step in…….. I like Foote at ILB with Syl backing him up…… Foote could also be signed next yr. for a few more yrs. if they don’t feel anyone is worth be a starter…… I mean Farrior played til 37 foote could do the same and play another 5 yrs. but I hope that’s not the case and they find out that one of these young guys can handle it…….

  • Broderick Wallace

    In all likelihood, Worilds will continue to work on his transition from DE to OLB for another year since the lockout set him back. The playing experience he gained last yer due to injuries should help him.

  • Fish

    I think he’s gonna be a good player for us going forward regardless of which position he plays. As was pointed out, he is behind two of the best OLB’s in the business and playing time is going to be limited. Throw on top of that his injury nags and his playing time has been limited even more. When he get’s his reps I really think he’s gonna shine. The few interviews I’ve seen with this guy you can tell he’s fully invested in the Steeler defensive way to do things too – Working your tail off, being physical, sacrificing for the betterment of the team, carrying on the tradition…..he’s proud to be a Steeler.

    I also think his development time will probably play into the Steelers hands to. I’m not sure when his rookie contract is up but I would be willing to bet it’s within the next year or so. He hasn’t arrived yet and therefore would not be too expensive to resign. The timing may work out where they get a nice discount for their starting OLB going forward.

  • TsarPepe

    It is great that the Steelers draft with a strong sense of how a player will fit in their system. But this is also why they, occasionally, reach for prospects. They get so enamored with the “fit” that they lose sight of the player’s actual value. This is especially true of the tweener LB/DE that they like to draft so much. I thought Timmons was a reach, Worilds definitely is, and so is Carter. I am not saying they are bad players, only that they could have been had lower in the draft.

  • kyle

    Most people had Carter rated as a 4th Round Pick. The Steelers got him at the end of the 5th.

  • Cols714

    I’m guessing that Worilds isn’t moving inside. Plus he looked good out there when he wasn’t injured last year. They need depth at OLB and Worilds gives them a decent player to put in when Harrison or Woodley go down.

  • Pete

    At the moment, Worilds has show me nothing to indicate he is the heir to Harrison. Also, very little info on Carter as he is still developing. I agree they will most likely take an ILB and/or DE light (convert to OLB) in this draft. Nice article.

  • zbluez1

    The issue with moving Jason Worilds inside, IMHO, is that there are still times he looks lost or like he is playing so far inside his head to recall his assignment that he is ineffective. Moving him inside requires that he know “KNOW” what he is doing and what “EVERYONE” else on the “D” is supposed to do. He has the physical tools to do the job at the BUCK at least as well as we have had the last 2 years, but does he have the football I.Q.? That is the question, isn’t it?