When the time comes to make the transition at outside linebacker — such a vital position in their 3-4 scheme — the Steelers have been ready.
Before James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley became the starting tandem in 2008, Harrison and Clark Haggans were the starters in '07, with Woodley waiting in the wings. Before that, it was Haggans and Joey Porter, with Harrison in reserve.
No one is quite thinking about life without Harrison or Woodley just yet. Harrison, the starting right outside linebacker, is 33, but he has kept himself in tremendous shape. Moreover, he is still a difference maker. Woodley, 27, signed a lucrative contract extension before the season; odds are he will be tormenting opposing offenses for years.
Still, the Steelers might have gotten a glimpse of the future this season at outside linebacker. Second-year pro Jason Worilds has shown, at the very least, that he's capable of being a fine reserve. Entering Monday night's game at San Francisco, the 6-2, 262-pound Worilds has notched 26 tackles and three sacks. He has started four games, all in place of the injured Woodley, the starter on the left side.
Worilds has flashed some impressive skills, not only as a pass rusher, but in the other elements of his game. He has shown the athleticism and fluidity needed in coverage. Coverage is "by far" his biggest challenge, Worilds told PFW this week. While he continues to work to improve in his area, he has shown promise. One example: In Week 10, he sprinted to his right and crossed the face of Bengals WR Andre Caldwell, who was cutting inside. An instant later, a pass intended for Caldwell was intercepted by CB William Gay. Though Worilds didn't make the play, he made his presence felt.
He also has made an impact rushing the passer. He brought down Browns QB Colt McCoy twice in Week 14. Each time, he was initially blocked but kept his pursuit and closed quickly to record the sack.
The play of Woodley and Harrison helps make this defense special, and Worilds has been influenced by each. Worilds admires Harrison's "approach to the game," and he has worked closely with Woodley on the ins-and-outs of the LOLB spot.
"I'm grateful. I'm grateful by far," Worilds said. "How many outside linebackers get to learn from the best pass-rushing tandem in the league?"
He added, "The competitor in me wants to play every snap, but if you can't play every snap, this is not a bad situation to be in, so to speak." Pittsburgh's latest in a line of potential-laden pass rushers finished the thought with a laugh.