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Steelers' Worilds intent on rising to the occasion

| Sunday, July 28, 2013, 10:33 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Steelers' Jason Worilds will compete for a starting spot at outside linebacker this season.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds talks with teammates during practice Sunday, July 28, 2013, at St. Vincent.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds tries to make a catch Sunday, July 28, 2013, at St. Vincent College.

Jason Worilds finds himself in a situation many players face on a yearly basis: a young guy trying to replace a superstar.

But Worilds' situation is unique. The former second-round pick is trying to replace a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year in James Harrison while holding off the advances on the starting job by first-round pick Jarvis Jones.

He wouldn't have it any other way.

Finally healthy and having completed an uninterrupted offseason training regimen for the first time, Worilds is geared up to make the Steelers forget about Harrison and wait a year before anointing Jones as a starter.

“I told him: ‘Are you going to rise to the talent or lay down?” linebacker coach Keith Butler said.

Worilds plans on rising up.

He has been penciled in as the starting right outside linebacker since the start of spring practices, and that's continued through the first weekend of training camp.

Butler sees a different linebacker than he has had in the past. The reason: Worilds finally had an offseason to prepare.

Two years ago, the lockout wiped out Worilds' offseason. Last offseason, he battled a tricky wrist injury that eventually required surgery that kept him out through the preseason.

“I think it set me back a lot,” Worilds said. “Having a full offseason puts you in a better place mentally and physically. Just to have the opportunity to work hard and train and to be in shape and have the time during OTAs to hone your craft is invaluable.”

Worilds said his injury was so severe that he couldn't hinge his wrist enough to open a can of soda.

“It definitely took longer to heal than I thought,” Worilds said. “Little things that you take for granted, I couldn't do.”

The wrist caused him trouble with tackling, grabbing runners and taking on blocks because he couldn't fully extend his wrist.

Despite playing about one-third of the defensive snaps last season, Worilds still managed to rank second on the team with five sacks on 166 pass-rushing attempts. Harrison had six sacks on 294 pass-rushing attempts.

“I am looking to be better than last year,” Worilds said. “I think I did well with the limited snaps that I had.”

The full offseason program has done wonders for Worilds' psyche.

“I think he is very confident in his abilities right now,” Butler said. “He feels better running the defense now more than he ever has probably because he has an idea what he is doing and what the people around him are doing. Trust me, he is going to help us.”

If so, it's likely only for this season.

Worilds is in the final year of his rookie contract and said he has yet to be approached for an extension. It likely won't happen: Jones is waiting in the wings, and LaMarr Woodley signed a long-term deal a season ago.

“I take it one day at a time,” Worilds said. “Money isn't a motivating factor to me. I am not saying that I don't like it, but it doesn't motivate me. Winning, competing, that's what I am really all about. I got the opportunity to come out here and compete.”

Butler has firsthand experience of what it is like to look over your shoulder at a first-round pick. He started at inside linebacker for Seattle when it selected Brian Bosworth.

“It would play on my mind,” Butler said. “But it is a good thing. It is motivation.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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