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Starkey: Jarvis Jones and brave new Worilds

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds during organized team activities Tuesday, May 27, 2014, on the South Side.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
 

Jarvis Jones, who figured to get bigger this offseason, hasn't gained an ounce.

Jason Worilds, who has struggled with injuries for parts of his career, left the field Tuesday with a giant wrap on his upper left leg.

“I'm cramping a little bit,” Worilds said.

Wait, they're treating leg cramps with giant wraps?

Oh well, it was only Day 1 of “organized team activities.” It was only football in shorts. We still have nine more of these sessions, plus training camp, plus who knows what else before Johnny Football comes to town Sept. 7 to kick it all off.

Nothing that happens between now and then will answer a critical question facing the 2014 Steelers: Are they ever going to start torturing quarterbacks again?

They better.

Their sack numbers since they led the NFL with 48 in 2010 say a lot: 35, 37, 34. That last total put the Steelers 25th in the NFL last season. That's embarrassing. The paltry sack numbers correspond with paltry turnover totals. The Steelers had a combined 26 interceptions and forced fumbles last season. In the Super Bowl year of 2010, they were second in the NFL with 45.

Plenty goes into making a productive pass rush. Leads sure help. Stopping the run helps. But if you don't have guys who can beat tackles, forget it. You need the bookends. James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley combined for 21 12 sacks and nine forced fumbles in 2010. Dick LeBeau's system is built around dominant outside linebackers.

Other than Ben Roethlisberger's health, I can't think of a bigger key to the 2014 season than the outside linebacker position. The Steelers have a first-round pick invested in Jones and $9.754 million earmarked for Worilds, if he doesn't sign long-term. There isn't much behind them. This has to work.

Will it?

Don't even pretend you can answer that question confidently.

The Steelers chose Worilds over Woodley after last season. That was the right choice, but it hardly comes with a guarantee. We still don't know whether Worilds can be healthy and productive for a full season because we've never seen it.

You wonder if the Steelers want to see it before committing long-term money.

“I don't think that's their stand, per se,” Worilds said. “But like I say, one day at a time.”

Is what we saw last season the real Worilds? Or is the injury-prone underachiever the real one? The risk is that if he goes nuts this year, the Steelers could lose him to free agency. Worilds is convinced that multiple teams were ready to lavish him with offers in free agency before he signed the transition tag.

As for Jones, he's stuck on 245 pounds with no intention of bulking up after his one-sack rookie season. He said the coaches want him to stay at 245 and work on strength and technique. They don't want him sacrificing quickness for the sake of a few pounds.

“My whole thing is getting stronger, being able to play with leverage and the right technique,” Jones said.

He says two factors are working in his favor: experience and the addition of assistant coach Joey Porter.

“It's not night and day, but it's a whole lot better, man,” Jones said of his comfort level. “My instincts are a whole lot better. I'm not out there second-guessing myself. I can line myself up. This system's hard, man. Anybody who plays in this system is going to tell you it's hard.”

And J-Peezy? Jones says Porter challenges players in the weight room and on the field. He gets in their faces in a positive way and fosters togetherness.

“He's got the mindset of a baller,” Jones said. “We're trying to get hip to that. He's really put an emphasis on learning how to play this system, how to use the right technique, how to line up with my feet and hands. That's what's really important right now.”

I still think Jones looks awfully slight to be manning up on massive left tackles. But, hey, Porter did fine at roughly the same weight. Maybe this will all turn out OK.

It better.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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