By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — With former NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison and Pro-Bowl performer LaMarr Woodley as their starting outside linebackers, it’s going to be difficult for a young player to earn a spot with the Pittsburgh Steelers there anytime soon.
Still, the Steelers selected outside linebacker Jason Worilds with their second-round pick in the NFL Draft Friday night. The Steelers also will make their third-round selection on this second draft day as well.
“We’ve got two pretty good outside linebackers as our starters right now, but we think this kid can come in and help us in terms of depth and on special teams as he learns the defense,” Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said. “As you know, ever since I’ve been here, we’ve never had a rookie linebacker start in this system. We like to groom them for a couple years.
“And we let them get their feet underneath them. The guys who have been successful here have always been good special teams players first, and we think this guy will be in that mold. The initial draw to him was what we saw on film. He probably wasn’t as productive his senior year, as he was his junior year, but he got more attention and was double-teamed a lot as a senior.”
Playing for Coach Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech, the 6-foot-2, 262-pound Worilds began his career as a special-teams performer and finished there as well, since the Hokies put a premium on blocking kicks and covering them. The Steelers have lacked in this area in recent years.
So, Worilds could make an immediate impact on the Steelers coverage units. But he also has no pretense about getting early playing time otherwise.
“I don’t expect anything,” Worilds said. “I truthfully just want to come in and learn from the best. I need to come in and earn those guys’ respect and try to be the best that I can be and contribute in any way. … So, I’m really just looking for an opportunity to be a sponge. (But) it’s a dream come true.
“To be picked by the Steelers … and knowing some of the guys who play there, I think I fit perfectly. So, it really is a dream come true. The type of rushers they have on the edge, I see myself in their mold. LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison, physical, explosive-type of edge rushers.
“So, I’m excited for the opportunity to come in and learn from them,” Worilds added. “(And) coming from a program with Coach Beamer, we always put a premium on special teams. So, for them to give me and opportunity to compete and earn a spot on the field anywhere is really an honor.”
While Worilds believed there was a lot to like about Pittsburgh and the Steelers’ linebacker tradition, past and present, there was a lot for the club to like about him as well.
“We liked his mobility,” Butler said. “We went down and spent some time with him during the offseason. We met with him and talked with him and liked his football knowledge. Everybody we talked to liked this kid, and we liked him when we met with him, (and) he had maybe the best workout as anybody we’ve seen.
“He has some speed, but more than anything he was fluid. A lot of guys who stand up (and rush the passer) early have difficulty opening their hips and dropping. That’s always the question we have with hybrids, but he was able to do things we wanted him to do in our system. And we think he’s a good fit.”
Worilds reportedly ran a 4.51 40-yard dash for the Steelers during his workout, but it was closer to 4.6 seconds at the NFL Combine. Still, Worilds was an attractive pick for Steelers. And he clearly was a better choice for the Steelers than Penn State linebackers Navorro Bowman and Sean Lee.
“We liked those guys, and I especially liked Sean Lee (from Pittsburgh high school Upper St. Clair),” Butler said. “But those guys are inside linebackers right now, and we’ve got a pretty good quartet of guys there. … So, the lines are long there, but we needed some depth at outside linebacker and better play on special teams than we had last year. And we believe this guy can help us in both regards quickly.”
The Steelers’ starting inside linebackers are James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons. Keyron Fox was the main backup last year, and Larry Foote was brought back this year to compete for a backup spot as well.
“That’s going to create some competition at inside linebacker,” Butler said. “So, I feel pretty good about that spot now. And I feel a lot better about our outside linebacker positions after we made this draft choice.”
Just don’t expect too much from Worilds other than on special teams.