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Steelers' Worilds prepared for heavy lifting

| Tuesday, April 16, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds has spent the offseason preparing to prove he is ready to assume the starting job at right outside linebacker.

Worilds, a second-round draft pick in 2010, is considered the likely candidate to replace former All-Pro James Harrison, who was released earlier this year after nearly a decade with the Steelers.

Worilds has had chances to audition for the position the past three seasons. Even though he put together perhaps his best season in 2012, the Virginia Tech product was still slowed some by nagging injuries that have dogged him throughout his career.

Worilds was limited some last year by a wrist injury. Also, he worked his way back from an injured quadriceps muscle in 2011 and played sparingly during his rookie year because of knee and shoulder injuries.

“With the injuries, you can't always put your best foot forward physically,” said Worilds, who expects to participate in May's OTAs at the team's training facility. “If you can be where you need to be physically and put yourself in the right place, it can negate a lot of mistakes.

“It's important for me to stay mentally sharp with my game. I played with some pain the last two seasons, but that's not unusual in the NFL.

“It was tough for me because I know I can do more,” Worilds said. “This game is one in which you have be at 100 percent physically fit to do the things you know you can do.”

Of course, part of Harrison's problem the past two seasons was constant injuries, including neck, hip, knee and hamstring ailments. The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year missed seven games during the 2011 and '12 seasons because of injuries.

Even with the absence of Harrison, the Steelers' linebacker corps remains the anchor of a defense that last year was ranked first in the NFL. Harrison's departure leaves a potential void in the pass rush. Harrison and linebacker Lawrence Timmons had a team-high six sacks, while Worilds had a career-best five.

“Everybody collectively will be better,” Worilds said. “There is better chemistry. I'm excited about what this defense can achieve this season.”

Already, the Steelers have resigned veteran Larry Foote and oft-injured Stevenson Sylvester, who was the 166th overall pick in the Steelers' 2010 draft class that included Worilds.

“With everything going on, I've been working hard to make it to camp in the best shape of my career,” Worilds said. “I know how hard it is to earn a job in this league and to keep your job.

“I learned in my first three years it doesn't get any easier. I know how hard James worked.

“I haven't thought much about getting a starting role, but we all work for that,” he added. “It's a great opportunity, and it puts more on my plate. It's something I've worked on since day one of getting to Pittsburgh. I haven't stepped on the field yet, but I realize what's ahead of me.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rpaulk@tribweb.com or Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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