By Jeremy Hritz
James Harrison is gone and is now in the land of the Bungles, apparently motivated by the Pittsburgh Steelers cutting ties with him. In week two of the approaching NFL season, Harrison will get his first opportunity to make his former team still wish they had his services, while Jason Worilds will be hoping to prove that the Steelers made the correct call.
Sure, the Steelers drafted Jarvis Jones in the first round this year with the expectation that he will eventually become a starter in Pittsburgh, but what happens in the event that Worilds explodes this season and lights it up as a pass rushing extraordinaire? While nobody is anointing Jones as the starter, common thinking has it that inevitably the right outside linebacker will be Jones’ to lose. If, however, in the event that Worilds has a breakout season, the Steelers will be confronted with an interesting decision to make.
Over the past two seasons, the pass rush has been ineffective, which has impacted the number of turnovers created by the defense. The Steelers are hoping that a healthy LaMarr Woodley and Worilds will be able to improve this area. While Worilds hasn’t been prolific in his limited play, he did produce five sacks this past season; however, there are concerns about his ability to play the run, something that Harrison did tremendously well during his tenure in Pittsburgh. Interestingly enough, Worilds was able to rack up five sacks while only starting three games, whereas Woodley tallied only four in 13 starts, and Harrison finished with six in 13 games. Just what type of numbers would Worilds have been able to put up had he started 16 games, or even 13 games?
A team cannot know what a player is truly capable of until they see that player in a starting role throughout an entire season, as there is something to establishing team chemistry and an individual rhythm. Based on Worilds limited play early in his career, there is some reason to believe that he will be able to do some good, possibly great things.
So let’s say that Worilds goes on to have a monster 2013 season and tallies 15 plus sacks and ignites the defense, helping to lead the team deep into the playoffs, what do the Steelers do then? Being that they just drafted Jones, would they let him walk, or would they make an effort to re-sign him? Being that the Steelers are a team that builds through the draft, being faced with such a decision would make for an interesting scenario. Would the Steelers even have the cap space to hold onto Worilds?
While it is unclear what type of player Worilds will be, if he is successful, it will create some interesting story lines in the following off-season. And while it will unquestionably create a conundrum, it is one that head coach Mike Tomlin and the Steelers organization would like to have when the 2013 season ends.