Worilds, Thomas ready for rivalry game
By Ralph N. Paulk
Published: Friday, Oct. 18, 2013, 2:16 p.m.
Linebacker Jason Worilds and safety Shamarko Thomas have one thing in common. Both wear easy smiles that reflect confidence.
And their confidence is growing with every snap and every tackle, even though the Steelers have stumbled to a 1-4 start.
Worilds and Thomas being trusted by defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to make plays for a defense that went 18 quarters before generating a turnover.
Worilds, who started every preseason game and the regular-season opener before being lifted in favor of rookie Jarvis Jones, probably will return to the starting lineup on Sunday when the Steelers host AFC North rival Baltimore (3-3) at Heinz Field on Sunday. Jones is listed as questionable with a concussion.
Thomas, an understudy for veterans Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark, has worked his way onto the field in crucial situations. He played nearly 25 snaps in a 19-6 win over the New York Jets last Sunday to accelerate his learning process.
It isn't the snaps that matter for LeBeau. But that the Steelers are building depth defensively while preparing for the future.
“I'm excited for the opportunity,” Worilds said. “My priority will be shutting down Ray Rice, but if we can get to (quarterback Joe) Flacco early, we can have a successful day.”
Worilds, along with rookie inside linebacker Vince Williams, has been tossed into the fray of a heated rivalry in another must-win situation. Worilds has played both outside linebacker positions, and put up relatively good numbers: seven total tackles, one sack, four quarterback pressures and one forced fumbles.
“I think our outside linebacker situation with those guys and the other guys that we got, we are going to continue to build and be OK,” LeBeau said. “If you look at the video, you will see that Jason played pretty well last year. He was a young player fighting his way through it.”
“I've been the one to wear a number of hats on this defense,” said Worilds, who has played outside linebacker positions and defensive end. “So, it's a little tricker job for me as opposed to some guys who can focus on one side. I've got to know the game plan from both perspectives.”
Thomas, who works overtime on special teams, is listed as Polamalu's backup at strong safety. However, he is getting plenty of playing time in the Steelers' quarter and dime packages.
If the Steelers' front seven can slam the door on running back Rice the way other teams have this season, then both Worilds and Thomas probably will be busy. Worilds will be asked to pressure Flacco while Thomas is likely to draw Baltimore's slot receivers — including Jacoby Jones — or tight ends Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark.
“We know what they can do in the passing game, but we can't sleep on the run game,” Thomas said. “Rice and 30 (Bernard Pierce) are beasts, but they can hurt you in the passing game with check-offs.”
Flacco has been inconsistent this season, but Jones' return from injury has bolstered his confidence, particularly with a rookie safety staring him down.
“We've been in flux,” Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. “Jones gave us a speed element out there, and he'll probably play more and more offensively as we go forward.”
The Ravens, who have dropped two of their last three games by a combined five points, are expected to test the Steelers' aging secondary.
But Clark and Polamalu — with a combined 74 tackles — have played well.
“They (Ravens) kind of live on that big play, outside and over the top on you,” LeBeau said. “They have a nice compliment of what you need in the NFL to be successful on offense.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.
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