The spoils of victory. The Pittsburgh Steelers are used to receiving them, just as they used to being victorious. But the 2012 Steelers were neither a Super Bowl contestant, nor were they a double-digit win team, but just a .500 ball club. A ball club looking for answers and an identity.
Among those answers they're searching for is who will replace ("succeed" would be a more accurate word) James Harrison at right outside linebacker. On one side is fourth-year player Jason Worilds, while on the other is first-round draft pick Jarvis Jones. There are debits and credits to each players' game, but only one can start week one.
Conventional wisdom would seem to dictate that Worilds is naturally the shoe-in for starter as he's been in the system longer. After all, he has been named by head coach Mike Tomlin as the starter to open Training Camp. But don't read much into that, into players being named as starters at start of camp. It's mainly a nod to seniority. The spot will be won in Camp, in practices, and eventually in games.
That being the case, who should get the starting job in order to help ensure the spoils?
If It Ain't Steel has long contended that it will be Worilds who will start week one. No rookie outside linebacker has started for the Steelers since Jack Ham in 1971, and none has ever started for defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. So, it's time for Worilds to bring his self-proclaimed moniker of "Worilds Greatest" to reality.
He had five sacks in 422 defensive snaps last season. According to Football Outsiders, that equates to approximately 10 sacks over the course of a season. But we ourselves had made such facts clear months ago.
In a March blog piece we wrote that part of Worilds' issues were that he'd yet to have a true and full offseason in that he was a rookie in 2010, he had to endure the lockout in 2011, and in 2012 he had the wrist injury. As a side issue, he also is decidedly better on the left side than on the right. Nonetheless, during those three seasons, he played 999 snaps or the equivalent to one full season. In that time he has 10 career sacks.
Now, we do realize that this extrapolation doesn't automatically mean that he'll produce that way this season, but it's definitely a point in the right direction. Sometimes, all a player needs is experience and the right opportunity - he will finally have it. Can he make the most of it?
Jones has also shown good instinct and the ability to diagnose plays as well as the athleticism to flow to the ball for open-field tackles. Qualities not at all lost on LeBeau.
"He's shown us a lot of instinctive football ability," defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. "If the coach doesn't mess him up, I think he's got a chance to be a pretty good player."
Linebackers coach Keith Butler said something similar regarding Jones' abilities.
"He's showing us things, and, if he keeps showing those things he's going to be a big part of that, hopefully," said Butler.
LeBeau once said that some of his defensive innovations actually came from mistakes made by players. He used those mistakes and adapted them. One could argue that it might not be a bad idea to let Jones make his mistakes too. Let him learn "on the job", as it were. A trial by fire.
Unfortunately, though, that brings certain failings to light that may be too much to overcome.
"When he was in college, he kind of freelanced a little bit," Butler said. "We're a little bit more disciplined in terms of what we ask him to do and the technique we ask him to use in the passing game. All he did was drop straight back and look at the quarterback."
Since questions still remain about his ability to cover opposing receivers in passing situations, it would be a disservice to the other experienced linebackers to put him out there with them. It's going to be difficult enough learning LeBeau's defense, which is widely regarded as one of the most complicated and ever-changing systems in the entire NFL.
In a defense where linebackers are expected to defend the run, drop into coverage, occupy blockers and rush the passer (from a number of positions and exotic looks), it would also be a disservice to Jones to expect him to start right away.
Could Jones start and then have Worilds brought in on passing downs? Possibly. But, especially with this being a pass-happy league, it would make more sense to start the more experienced Worilds and bring Jones in as a situational player. (And we haven't even touched on his possible susceptibility to further nerve-related problems.)
With the linebacker position, outside linebacker primarily so, being so important to the Steelers defense and overall success, the answer to the question of who'll take over the right side would initially seem to be Jason Worilds. It's the smartest and surest way to start enjoying the spoils of victory early on in 2013.
TIDBITS: Here's a run down of a few of the more important tweets from the various national and local reporters who were in Latrobe Saturday:
“@EdBouchette: Ben Roethlisberger just told me his right knee is fine, although he did not want to dispute Mike Tomlin's assessment Friday.”
@AKinkhabwala: Steelers WR Markus Wheaton been told to learn multiple positions. After school had him miss camps, said he's excited to hear plays in huddle
@AKinkhabwala: Mike who? Plaxico Burress says Antonio Brown "is an electric guy. He’s going to be our big play guy this year."
"@MarkKaboly_Trib: Antonio Brown makes deep catch from Ben over Cortez Allen. AB can go deep, apparently."
"@MarkKaboly_Trib: Emmanuel Sanders beats William Gay deep. So much for not being able to go deep w/out Wallace"
(It's early yet)
“@AKinkhabwala: Steelers rookie WR Markus Wheaton asked for goals here. Says: "First, making the team. As long as I make the team, I can move on from there"”
“@MarkKaboly_Trib: Team drills has Redman one rep with first team, one for Dwyer, one for batch, one for bell.”
“@MarkKaboly_Trib: Larod Stephens Howling also gets snap with first team”
“@MarkKaboly_Trib: Tomlin telling Le'Veon Bell to "finish everything you do" after breaking into the open”
“@MarkKaboly_Trib: Beachum second team left tackle. Malecki second team center”
"@jimwexell: Alameda Ta'amu injured hamstring 2 weeks ago running sprints. He's lost 27 pounds to 350. Last yr's belly is this yr's chest & shoulders."