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Rotation Gameplan At Outside Linebacker Evident In Third Preseason Game


By Matthew Marczi

When Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler spoke earlier this offseason of a rotation at the outside linebacker position during this season, I was skeptical, recalling past comments from other position coaches of rotation plans that never came to fruition. See, for example, the limited playing time of Cameron Heyward from a season ago, barring games in which injuries occurred.

However, as was evident by any observer with even the slightest interest in the matter, it was demonstrable that the Steelers were regularly rotating their linebackers during the team’s third preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Jason Worilds started the game on the right side, where he figures to be when the regular season begins, with LaMarr Woodley in his traditional left outside linebacker spot. However, on the second drive of the game, the Steelers inserted their first round draft pick, Jarvis Jones, into the lineup at the right outside linebacker spot, with Worilds taking a drive off on the sidelines.

Some were quick to read into that that Jones was gaining ground over Worilds to start at outside linebacker in the season opener, but that does not appear to be the case, considering how the rest of the game went. More likely, it is actually the versatility of Worilds that will afford Jones a greater playing time this year until he emerges as a starter.

On the third drive, Jones stayed in the game, but Worilds moved over to Woodley’s spot at left outside linebacker. While Worilds has been the primary reserve at right outside linebacker since he was drafted, in actuality, he has received most of his playing time at left outside linebacker, with Woodley battling injuries over the past two seasons.

Because Worilds has the ability to play at a competent level on either side of the defense, it affords the Steelers the luxury of keeping Jones over at the right side, where he is most comfortable, at least until he has a better grasp on the defense. That allows them to play any combination of the three at any given time—or even all three in certain blitz packages, which I firmly believe is inevitable given the number of blitzes that Jones executed from an inside position.

Jarvis Jones did a better job of holding the point in the run game, as evident in the early short-yardage standoff on third and fourth down that took place on his first series of the game. His demonstrating the potential aptitude for playing the run will only help to instill confidence in the coaches that they can keep Jones in the game and not worry about him blowing his assignment.

With a greater number of snaps under his belt, he appears more comfortable and decisive in his movements, in addition, and as a consequence, he looked to be playing with greater quickness and strength.

The rotation remained consistent through the first drive of the second half, after which the second-team took over: Woodley-Worilds; Woodley-Jones; Worilds-Jones. After that, Jones continued to play at right outside linebacker—opposite Chris Carter—until he exited the game after being injured on an interception return.

Regardless of whether or not Jarvis Jones becomes a starter at some point this season, the Steelers will likely continue to use a rotation at outside linebacker throughout the year. With Jones’ inexperience and Woodley’s recent string of injuries, having a three-man rotation should be the best option for the linebackers and for the team, keeping their pass rushers fresh and on-point. Would they have done that with a healthy Woodley and James Harrison a few years ago? Likely not, considering the two hardly came off the field. However, they also would not have drafted Jarvis Jones in the first round, either.

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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.
  • steeltown

    And for this reason, I think it could be a possibility that Worilds is retained after the season, a three headed OLB attack is pretty fierce. Obviously it would mean keeping Worilds at a modest amount and would entail him being a swing (almost backup) OLB, but its possible, especially now with Robinson and Sly gone and maybe soon C.Carter

  • NW86

    Agreed. I’m hoping they can keep Worilds at a price similar to Larry Foote (~2M/year). If they don’t, they really won’t have much depth behind the starters (Baxter looks good but he’s an UDFA who has played against 3rd stringers so far), so OLB would once again become a draft need.

  • steeltown

    Indeed… though I think he would cost alittle more than that

  • ATL96STEELER

    I have not seen this 3OLB move yet…who goes out? A DL, or Foote?

  • steeltown

    That’s not exactly what I was implying, though im sure they have a scheme for that line-up..I was more implying they platoon at OLB.. they have continually moved Worilds over to LOLB during the preseason even with the 1st Team Defense. It could be they just want him to stay comfortable on the Left side in case Woodley goes down..it could be they want to try and keep everyones legs fresh or it could just be a sign for the future that they covet his versatility, who knows, either way it sure looks like they will get Jarvis on the field this season, by way of platoon

  • Pete

    We’ll see how much rotation goes on during the season but it’s hard to draw those conclusions from preseason where they want to get Jones a lot of snaps. It’s fairly obvious that Jones is gaining ground on Worilds and the only thing in his way is an acceptable level of understanding of the defense. Bouchette has been saying that Jones could be the first rookie LB to start for the Steelers in many years. I’m inclined to believe that after watching Jones this preseason. Whether he starts or not, Worilds days as a starter are numbered.

  • Jefferson_St_Joe

    Woodley and Worilds are playing for one roster spot next year. Playing all 3 and moving Worilds back and forth puts the pressure on Woodley to maintain his current pay level next year. If he does, it’s highly unlikely Worilds comes back.

  • ATL96STEELER

    Oh…ok…I’ve read somewhere they could all be on the field together and I had not seen it yet this preseason.

  • Matthew Marczi

    They will, and you’re right, it hasn’t happened yet in the preseason. I would imagine it would depend on the situation, but I would think a linebacker probably comes off (Foote), since Jones is good at the inside rush.

  • Matthew Marczi

    If Woodley and Worilds are fighting for one spot, then Woodley wins by default. With all the restructures they did to his contract, they can’t afford to cut him. They would actually lose money rather than save money by cutting him next year.

  • ATL96STEELER

    Not a bad idea imo…I can see them taking Foote off the field on obvious passing downs, blitz Jones from his spot and let the S handle the ILB pass coverage duty.

  • Jefferson_St_Joe

    I agree the cards are stacked heavily in his favor, but they won’t pay him another $8M unless he shows he’s capable of earning it, no matter the 2014 or 2015 cap implications. You don’t get out of your cap woes by paying a guy $8M who’s not earning it. That’s just throwing good money after bad.

    I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen of him so far.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Agreed. They like to blitz Foote a lot anyway, so if you can put in a better blitzer in certain packages (and it doesn’t have to be one-dimensional/predictable, because I believe Jones has the instincts to cover from the ILB spot too), you might as well do it.

  • ATL96STEELER

    Your point is well taken and you’re right…at some point you have to produce to get all of the money…but, ’14 is probably not the make or break year…re-working his deal has secured a lot of money…his contract would accelerate too much G money remaining to the ’14 cap…I think ’14 is a make or break year for Troy in terms of finishing as a Steeler….he needs to play 13-14 games at a decent level to justify his cap hit next yr.

    I think PIT would be justified asking for a cut if he has a poor season, but I don’t see them cutting him unless it’s really bad.

  • Jefferson_St_Joe

    I have no doubt that this 2013 is the ‘prove it’ year for both Troy and Woodley, especially if the team struggles again.

  • ATL96STEELER

    We’re on the same page there from a production stand point…but you seem to be suggesting the cap will have no factor and I that’s where I disagree…especially on Woodley.

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