By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — While many Pittsburgh Steelers fans already have penciled Jarvis Jones’ name into the starting right outside linebacker spot vacated by James Harrison’s departure, don’t count LaMarr Woodley among them.
Woodley, the team’s starting left outside linebacker, believed that neither player should be counted out just yet.
“Nobody should forget about Jason Worilds, but the first-round draft pick is always going to get a lot of hype, just because he’s a first-round pick,” Woodley said. “And especially because there’s a spot that’s vacant for him. So, there’s going to be a competition, a good battle, between the two of them.
“That’s going to happen during camp. (But) Jason can hold his own. That’s for sure, but it eventually could be Jason and Jarvis Jones out there and LaMarr Woodley is gone. You never know, but that’s how a rookie should be. They should want to push the veterans out so they can play.”
Worilds wore a Steel Curtain T-shirt underneath his practice jersey Wednesday and believed the standard set by that group is one that every Steelers defense tries to reach each season.
“They were the best, and we want this defense to be the best,” Worilds said. “We’ve worked very hard this spring as a unit, and things have gone good for me this spring. It’s been productive, and I think I’ve taken advantage of this chance to get better. I didn’t approached this offseason any different from the past years, but I know what I need to do now.
“So, I’ve just continually been putting in work to be the best player I can be, and I believe I’ve done everything I needed to do so far. This is my fourth season, and I really want to take advantage of this opportunity. This has been my best offseason so far, and I really wanted to apply myself. The main thing for me this year is to finally have a home at right outside linebacker.”
Worilds has played both sides during his previous three NFL seasons, which makes him among the more experienced young players at linebacker. This puts Worilds at the top of the depth chart right now.
“I’ve always been the type of player where I learn better if I can go through it, so that’s been beneficial to me so far this spring,” Worilds said. “I’m getting a lot of reps, even though it’s just in shorts, but I believe I’ve been able to improve quite a bit from the first week of OTAs until mini-camp this week.”
Steelers linebacker coach Keith Butler praised Worilds as well.
“He’s doing very well,” Butler said. “He’s doing good. He understands the situation. All of them do. It’s a competition between all of them, but I’ve never had a situation like this where I can play three different guys and have confidence in all of them that they’re going to be pretty good. So, we’ll see what happens.”
Worilds is in his fourth season after the Steelers selected him in the second round during the 2010 NFL Draft, and this past one marked the first time he played in all 16 games with three starts. Worilds had seven starts in 12 games in 2011 and played in 14 games as a rookie. Worilds has had several injuries that have hampered his development during his initial three NFL seasons.
“The great thing about this league is nobody wants to hear excuses,” Butler said. “Just go out there and get it done. So, we’ve got some guys who can play, and we’ll see how it goes with the guys who have been around here a little bit.
“It’s time for them to step up, too, so we’ll see what happens in camp. But it’s hard to evaluate guys until we get pads on and get in some games in the preseason and not just on defense. They’ll have to do well on special teams.”
While the injury issues could be excuses for front-runner starters Woodley and Worilds in past seasons, Butler said he was referring to several younger players, such as third-year pro Chris Carter, second-year player Adrian Robinson and rookie Alan Baxter. Carter played collegiately at Fresno State, while Robinson went to Temple. And Baxter is an undrafted free agent from Northern Illinois.
“Last season was my second year in the league, and I was still learning the defense,” Carter said. “Nobody comes in here and picks things up right away. That’s just how it is. You look at Jason Worilds, even James Harrison. He didn’t get going right away, but look how he developed. So, I’m learning all the time, (and) the good thing is that I’m still here, so I must be doing all right.
“I missed the last couple games with ribs and cartilage damage, but once last season was over and I was healed I started working out again. I wanted to come in this spring in the best shape ever, and I got a little bigger because of it. I played at around 240-245 last season, a lean 240, but I’m up to about 250, 253 now. I had a good nutritionist, so I’m healthy and ready to go for camp.”
Carter said that while he still gets work on both sides, he switched to primarily playing on the left side behind Woodley. Jones is working exclusively behind Worilds on the right side, but Worilds is working both sides. And so is Woodley.
“We have a better linebacker corps this year, as the younger guys got more experience, and with who they brought in,” Carter said. “So, that’s a good thing for the team. That gives us a lot of weapons on defense, and we need all we can get to win a championship. That’s a good thing about this defense.”