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Somebody Has To Fill Harrison\’s Shoes At Right Outside Linebacker For The Steelers


By Matthew Marczi

Even though he may not have been given the biggest contract out of those who left the Pittsburgh Steelers this year via free agency, James Harrison was certainly the greatest. Mike Wallace may have gotten $60 million from the Miami Dolphins—and that is fair market value for his services at his age in today’s NFL—it is unlikely that he will ever be as great as Harrison once was.

Even though Harrison was only a full-time starter for the Steelers for six years, nobody on the team impacted their success—aside from Ben Roethlisberger—more than he. An argument could be made for Troy Polamalu, who at his best in 2008 and 2010 helped lead the Steelers to the Super Bowl. In fact, Harrison won the Defensive Player of the Year award in ’08, and Polamalu claimed it in ’10. But Polamalu has simply missed too much of the past six years to have had the same impact.

Much of Harrison’s back story is already well known, such that it does not need to be recounted exhaustively. Suffice it to say that, although injuries have slowed him in recent years, and even kept him off the field for seven games in the last two years (plus another due to suspension), his play on the field when healthy will not be duplicated by anybody who attempts to take his place on this roster, whether it is Jason Worilds, Jarvis Jones, Chris Carter, or Adrian Robinson.

In James Harrison, you are talking about a player who made four consecutive All-Pro teams when healthy between 2007 and 2010, and also received a Pro Bowl nod in 2011, despite missing five games that season. It is well known that he battled injuries in 2012 that limited his productiveness, but he began to round into form late in the season and finished tied for the team lead in sacks with six.

More importantly, Harrison has perennially been one of the Steelers’ most prolific playmakers, as well as one of its most unspoken grinders. His 29 fumbles since 2007 (his first year as a starter) rank second in the league behind Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman, whose absurd 10 forced fumbles last year pushed him into the league.

It is fair to point out that only four of Harrison’s forced fumbles have come in the past two seasons. That speaks both to how exceptional he was from 2007 to 2010 when he was closer to full health, and also to how much his performance has diminished over time.

Although, again, that includes missing eight games over the past two years, and playing through injuries. Of course, it also makes his nine sacks in 11 games in 2011 that much more impressive.

What nobody will match is Harrison’s play against the run. I have previously written about Harrison’s ability to stop the run, so it is not necessary to regurgitate much of it here, but suffice it to say that averaging nearly six tackles per start for a 3-4 outside linebacker is rather uncommon.

In his Defensive Player of the Year season in 2008, he averaged 6.73 tackles per game, finishing the year with 101 tackles in 15 games, to go along with a career-high 16 sacks, seven forced fumbles, a safety, and an interception.

Jason Worilds is, in all likelihood, the first one to get a crack at trying to replace Harrison. While he will never match Harrison’s pass rushing proficiency in his prime, he did best him in that category a season ago, and it is fair to mention that Worilds dealt with his own injury early on as well. In fact, in 2011, Worilds was ranked by Pro Football Focus as the seventh best pass rusher in terms of pressure per snap.

Worilds, in his ten career starts, has also been a slightly more efficient tackler, missing just one on running plays in his career. Where he lacks Harrison’s skill, however, is in pure run stopping, where Harrison continues to rank near the top of the league, despite various injuries. In fact, Worilds was ranked just 23rd out of 34 outside linebackers last year in run stop percentage. For comparison, Harrison was ranked third.

Interestingly, despite the small sample size, Worilds did make some strides in his coverage skills. In 2011, PFF had him giving up the eighth most receptions per coverage snap, and the sixth most yards per coverage snap, at his position. Last year, he was ranked second and fourth overall in those categories, respectively, numbers that topped Harrison’s—though not drastically, as Harrison ranked fourth and eighth in those same areas.

There are still three great unknowns about Worilds. First and foremost is if he can endure a full 16 game schedule as a starter. He played in every game in 2012, but he only made three starts. Secondly, it is unclear what kind of player he is capable of being as a week to week, consistent starter. Finally, the bulk of his starts, and his success, have come in replace of LaMarr Woodley on the left side. Can that translate to success on the right side?

Despite all of the questions surrounding Worilds, however, there are even more surrounding Jarvis Jones. From his own long-term health issues, to his underwhelming workout numbers, to questions about how he was used as a centerpiece in college translating to the Steelers’ scheme, there are many who wonder if he will have success in this league. And, in fact, some would suggest that the odds are against him, although whether one chooses to put stock in that predictor is another matter.

There will be plenty of time during this offseason for Jarvis Jones to write his own story. As of now, there is no pro tape on him, so, as with Le’Veon Bell, there is only so much to be said based on OTA reports. And all expectations are that, barring injury, he will not start as a rookie. But his pass rushing skills may be tested in year one in certain sub-packages. Given his size, it is unlikely that he could achieve the amount of sheer pressure that Harrison did in his prime, so it will be interesting to see if and how Jones expands his pass rushing repertoire during the season.

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About Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • TJimmy

    If he is healthy I think Worilds should rack up the sacks this year. You know he will likely have a chip on his shoulder with all the attention going to Jarvis Jones and how the media is pretty much ignoring Worilds’ production of 10 sacks in 10 starts.

    With Woodley also being humbled this should be an interesting year for linebackers that hopefully translates to production.

  • Chris Farls

    I’m keeping an open mind when it comes to Worilds. He hasn’t flashed as an up-n-comer, but nothing I’ve seen says he’ll be a bust either. Give him time. Bet he outperforms the low expectations. He’s more of a sure bet than Jones at this point, given Jones’s size and one-trick pass rush repotoire at this point.

  • ATL96STEELER

    The key to the DEF this season rests on Woodley imo, not Worilds or Jones…if he can regain the dynamic form he had, the ROLB will have more 1 on 1 opportunities. If he’s being controlled by one guy, then I would anticipate Lebeau having to bring Timmons on the delayed blitz more this yr to get pressure.

  • JC

    I’m not sure we can depend on one player to replace Harrison’s productivity during his prime in terms of sacks, run support, and turnovers. It will be a collective effort amongst several players to replace Harrison. In my opinion, Lawrence Timmons and Cortez Allen will emerge as our best defensive player makers. Polamalu (if healthy) is also capable of creating turnovers. Although I don’t believe that either Woodley, Worlids, or Jones will ever be as great as Harrison, I do believe they are more than capable of creating enough pressure on the QB for our defense to be very effective. In terms of run support, our defensive line (especially Hood, Heyward, & McClendon) needs to step it up and start dominating up front to allow our linebackers to roam free.

  • Randy Neff

    I don’t think the size of Jones will be an issue. He is similar in size to a number of accomplished excellent edge rushers currently playing in the NFL.

  • steeltown

    I think Worilds will do just fine.. Im never looking for someone to replace a great player or looking to compare the two. I think Worilds (if healthy) is capable of playing at a high level. He’s younger and faster than Harrison, same could be said for McLendon replacing Hampton.. the QB pressure should be greater this year.. especially if Woodley returns to form.

    I look for alot more quickness of the line this season, opposing OL better be ready

  • StrengthOfVictory

    In all seriousness, I think Worilds is going to have a great year. In limited playing time, he has shown that he’s capable and ready…and we KNOW he knows the system by now. He’s hungry, motivated, and has the playmaking abilities. If (or in my opinion, when) Worilds proves that he can be a fixture of this Steelers defense in 2013, I won’t be the least bit surprised.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    Wouldn’t it be hysterical if Worilds surprises everybody this year and dominates at ROLB? Remember when we lost Joey Porter? Nobody thought Harrison would emerge like he did. What if Worilds emerges? Then we extend him? And keep Jarvis as a premiere rotational player? Or filling in for injuries?

  • Brendon Glad

    Great article. Spot on. It is going to be one of the most important, interesting, (and if the competitors do their part in camp) FIERCE training camp battles of recent Steelers memory.
    I’m also intrigued to see if Robinson and Carter have made some leaps…on whichever side they are asked to man.
    I really appreciate, as a fan of this site, the amount of proper respect shown to James Harrison for his Steelers contributions. Some fan and media bases take a more “sour-grapes” approach, and while with some guys it is warranted…it is not with James Harrison. So it’s good to see. I will remember him with great fondness, and cherish that unforgettable moment he made for all of us in the SB. I like that the Steelers made a decent effort to keep him…it makes the split much more palatable.

  • steeltown

    Exactly.. what if? Its a big ‘what if’ but im not sure what they’d do. I bet they let him test the market and he ends up elsewhere, regardless of production

  • steeltown

    I think Carter and Robinson will battle for backup behind Woodley.. as im certain Jarvis will backup Worilds on the right side for the immediate future.

    A.Robinson I think could succeed on the right side as well, do to his ability to create constant pressure.. Carter on the other hand as we know did not play well on the right side, so I think he has to show he’s capable on the left or his days are numbered

  • VaDave

    James Harrison is one of those once in a lifetime players. They just don’t make that many of them. I agree that Worlids is not going to duplicate Harrison’s impact on a game. I can’t think of a ROLB linebacker in this league that could duplicate the year Harrison had in 2008. Historically, LT, and Thomas and then? IMO Harrison treated us to some of the best linebacker play in the history of the league. To expect a mirror image type replacement overnight is unreasonable.

  • Randy Neff

    Jack Ham historically was better. 8 consecutive Pro Bowls, 6 consecutive All Pro, 75th All NFL Anniversary team, 70’s All Decade team, and still the NFL record holder for forced fumbles with 53. Had he been allowed to rush the quarterback more than he did he would have put up big numbers as well. Not to mention how well he played the run. And I still haven’t seen any LB defend against passes better.

  • Isaac Reveles

    got to take Robinson over Carter. i like carter but he never put any pressure on the QB he always got delt with

  • ATL96STEELER

    That is a big what if…a very good one actually…I think they would resign him and possibly Jones inside to replace Foote next year.

  • ATL96STEELER

    JH should still be playing in PIT…reportedly making less than offered by Colbert…If anything I blame his agent or whomever he trusted to determine his market value.

    As a player…no way can I diss Harrison, even for going to a DIV rival…he was throwback Steeler.

  • Madi

    Fully agree, Dave. He didn’t do it for as long as other guys, but for the short time he did it, it was the best I’ve ever seen. Very underrated, and much more complete than those often ranked near or ahead of him.

  • James Kling

    Woodley, Worilds, Jones. 3 candidates, 2 starting slots. That invites competition for excellence. Even the backup race is compelling (Carter and Robinson are quite interesting.)

  • VaDave

    Randy, I agree with you. Ham had a better, longer career, and certainly one of the best ever to play the game. I was referencing one particular year, 2008, of which I will argue to the matt that Harrison had a better, more impactful year than any of the ones Ham had. My point was that excellence like Harrison provided, and Ham too, happens once a generation, and don’t expect the next guy to pick up where it was left off.

  • Pete

    Assuming Jones can play when he gets his pads on, Worilds is only keeping the spot warm for him. Jones is the guy they want to see maning the ROLB position. Everyone coming in is going to be compared to Harrison and Worilds is in a tough situation. Pro Football Focus has Harrison as one of the top ROLB for the 3-4 period. Harrison can do it all and very well. Harrison’s nastiness and work ethic epitomized the Steelers. Long live Harrison but I hope Jones can live up to expectations.

  • SteelSpine

    Yep. And don’t forget Ham’s run defense. Regarding containment which is preventing anyone with the ball from turning the corner, remember the famous film saying “Nobody got around Jack Ham.”

  • SteelSpine

    I couldn’t have said it better myself, on every point there.

  • Brendon Glad

    Me too. Really excited to see him. He (dare I say) reminded me a little bit of a young “wet behind the ears” James Harrison in terms of the relentless will to go after the QB last August, much like JH flashed early in his career before he figured it all out.
    I haven’t seen as much exciting potential from Carter, but injuries have hampered him so if he’s gotten through all of that, maybe we will see something more from him too. Come ON August!!!! Hurry up!

  • Brendon Glad

    Yes. It was unfortunate (for Steelers Nation). I respect the Steelers for taking their stand, and not waiting around for JH to find his new market value. And I respect JH and his agent for wanting to see it. They made a gamble, and Cincy became the beneficiary. I’m not looking forward to seeing him attack Ben twice per year, because I think he will have a rejuvenated season in the same way Porter did in MIA after he got through some injury plagued seasons (all starting with the gun-shot to the leg).
    But I think that there are several exciting young players who will make us excited for the future…while still respecting the great past which JH provided us.

  • ATL96STEELER

    Agreed…I think PIT knew they were going to have get younger @ ROLB regardless of whether JH stayed or not so once they decided to test the market it more or less time to turn the page.

    On JH…I certainly would like to have him in Black/Gold b/c he’s better than Worilds or Jones today imo… but, I really don’t fear him as a player as much as I would’ve say 2-3 yrs ago. Clearly has lost a step or two especially in coverage.

  • RASTA

    I completely agree as Harrison’s SB TD ramble was my favorite Steelers play to put on my big screen and cherish. I will always have great memories of James, but truly hope he tweaks something before the Bengals play us this year, as I in no way want a completely healed Harrison coming after Big Ben! He was getting better late last year and our great organization recognized that by making him an incredibly above average money offer (although a pay cut, it was technically only because of how much he had been over-paid for injury seasons and he should’ve known that), and then the not-ever-the-brightest Harrison shunned the Rooney’s and the team that had given him everything. That will not be forgotten by me or many other Steeler fans – especially this season if he looks like the terror that he can be when healthy for the Bungles – and at only half of what the Steelers would’ve been paying him. Best of luck on the rest of your career James, just all bad luck for you against us. Go Steelers!

  • Brendon Glad

    Yeah, it’s a fine line. And it’s a line that the Steelers have proven to walk much better than me, as a die-hard Steelers fan.
    My gut says: Harrison’s 3 key-injuries of the last 3 years: (the back, the eye-socket, and the knee)…were more flukes than trends, despite his age. So I fully expect him to play well for 2-3 more seasons. Which sucks for us. But I can’t really blame ANYONE for how it played out. JH was not worth what he would be paid…JH and his agent (in my opinion) correctly assessed that the injuries were flukes instead of trends…both parties took a fair-stand…and the Bengals lucked-out. I’m with you RASTA…I never root for serious injuries to anyone…but I’m not above rooting for a “tweak” here and there myself. :-)

  • Brendon Glad

    I agree. I think even JH would say he’s not what he was. But oh lordy…if our LT doesn’t step-up, it could be 2 really aggravating days.
    He may not be asked to go into coverage much at all against the Steelers without Max Starks there. I’d actually kind of like that matchup…because Starks could just push him past the play. But it won’t be…so it’s a cause for concern.
    To me, the Bengals are the solid front-runner in the division race. Normally, that causes the Bengals to get complacent and suck. My gut says that they have changed their mentality somewhat. My gut also says the Ravens will miss Ray Lewis and Ed Reed way more than they think they will. And my gut says the Steelers will be right there…as a team who will be 9-7 if it goes bad…or 12-4 if it goes well. And once again a team where if they make the playoffs…then a SB run will be very possible. So I’m ready to GO!!!!

  • Brendon Glad

    Even though the Bengals have very nice talent…and I would have preferred JH landing in Arizona or somewhere like that, I felt a little better about JH landing in Cincy than I would have if Balt or NE had signed him like I thought they would.

  • ATL96STEELER

    Good points…the biggest change I’ve seen in JH’s game is he doesn’t seem to have that bull rush anymore. With his back, I’m not sure he ever regain it. I have to think the fear of that move made it easier for him to get to the edge or slide inside.

    On the DIV…imo CIN has the most talented roster with all those high 1st round picks, but they never spend any of that cap money on proven FAs to complement the young talent. They drafted well again this yr…but the OC in Cincy sucks. They will be solid again…9 to 10 wins.

    I agree with you on BAL…Lewis had declined as a player, but he was the inspirational leader on that squad…I think their biggest loss to overcome will be @ WR…nobody I’ve seen brings the toughness that Boldin had…9 wins tops

    CLE can’t seem to get out of their own way…solid DEF, and running game, but QB, and WR are not solved imo…8-8 at best I think.

    PIT…a lot depends on the running game, particularly in the RZ and shortage…I got so sick and tired of seeing Ben in shotgun on 3rd & 2 or less last year…today I think they are a 10-11 win squad…it’s going to boil down to those 6 DIV games I think.

  • Brendon Glad

    Good points. And here’s a funny story. I was depressed and talking to an acquaintance of mine who is from Cleveland…in mid april 2012…and I was lamenting how the Browns were nearly a “done deal” to get the RGIII deal done. I was NOT looking forward to that. I’m still completely fine dealing with Dalton, and honestly, despite Flacco’s tremendous 2012 postseason, STILL am not overly worried about him either. But RGIII thrown into the mix would have made the AFC North a GD nightmare. SO relieved the Browns played hardball and blew that one. We will be snickering about that one for many years to come, in my opinion, even with the RGIII injury.
    On the offense, I am in the minority in liking Todd Haley, but I’m sticking with it. He does 3 things that I like…1) He challenges Ben more than Arians did…and with a franchise tag in hand, Ben is a Steeler until the Steelers decide otherwise, so with that knowledge, I LIKE the QB to be challenged. 2) He created several nice plays which eased the load on Ben’s pounding. Even though he still got hurt, I think that he was way less banged-up until the actual injury. 3) He throws on first and goal a decent amount of the time. It was something that Arians almost never did, and it’s something that forms one of the key tenets of my philosophy on how NFL offensive football should be played.
    So I love your points…added a few more of my own…and I’m ready to get this season going. And I’m gonna put my $ where my mouth is…there will be several futures bets involving the Steelers that I will have my eyes on. Namely “wins” and “Steelers win AFC Championship”. I like both

  • ATL96STEELER

    I’m neutral on Haley at this point…I thought yr one was going okay prior to Ben going down…imo Tomlin wussed out and allow him back too soon, but that’s another topic.

    I’m curious to see how the RZ OFC works with Heath out for maybe 6+ games.

    CLE…I agree 100% on RG3…with that many draft picks they were stocked and loaded to get the number two pick. Walrus sold them a bill of goods, stating they had a better offer…sure they did…after STL already made a deal with WAS. They reportedly loved him @ the combine…had they acted while WAS pursued Manning, RG3 is a Brown today.

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