Steelers looking to tap potential of Worilds
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has said he expects players to make the most improvement from their first to second year.
Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler has hardly been subtle in getting that across to 2010 second-round pick Jason Worilds.
"He hasn't appeared in the past to look like he's a guy that's hungry to make the team, and we want him to have that," Butler said. "We want to play him. We don't want to have to take LaMarr (Woodley) and James Harrison and let them play 950 plays this year. We want to be able to put him on the field where he knows the defense well enough that he can run to the football."
With the Steelers' starting linebackers set, one of Butler's top priorities in training camp has been motivating Worilds.
The Steelers lack depth behind Woodley and Harrison, who had two back surgeries during the offseason, and Worilds is the most logical candidate to emerge among an unproven group of outside linebackers.
Worilds has a "burst like Lawrence Timmons," said Butler, and that is saying something considering Timmons is arguably the hardest hitter on a defense that prides itself on physicality.
What Butler has been drilling into Worilds is the importance of playing with more intensity, especially during practices when defenders tag instead of tackle ball carriers.
"He pulls up a little bit too much, like he's been here for 10 years," Butler said. "If he's competitive, he'll get better and be a good player for us. We think he has started to move in that direction."
Worilds, who led the country in quarterback pressures (38) his final season at Virginia Tech, agrees.
"I just need to finish on a consistent basis, no matter what drill it is," said Worilds, who had two sacks last season in limited action.
Worilds suffered a possible setback Wednesday, leaving practice with groin tightness and putting in question his status for the preseason opener Friday at Washington.
Worilds, as Woodley before him, moved from defensive end in college to outside linebacker in the NFL. That transition may be why, Butler acknowledged, Worilds doesn't always play as fast as the coaches would like.
The lockout didn't help him — or any other second-year player Tomlin expects to make a big jump — as it cost Worilds offseason practices and valuable chalkboard sessions with Butler.
Still, Worilds said, he is much more comfortable in the Steelers' defense than he was this time last year.
"Night and day," Worilds said. "I'm not looking around. I can make some of the calls myself. I know where to go."
Butler wants to see Worilds, who comes across as quiet, get there with more urgency, to play with more vigor.
"I've got to pull that out of him," Butler said. "Sometimes it is something you're born with; sometimes it is your circumstances. James Harrison was on the street a couple of times. It made him hungry. A lot of different things motivate guys."
Butler said he is not singling out Worilds as he tries to tap into the potential that prompted the Steelers to make Worilds their second pick in the 2010 draft, after Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey.
"Nobody has a free ride this year, including me," Butler said. "I've got a room full of (high-priced players). We better produce in that room. That's the nature of this business, and I embrace that, and I've been trying to get him to embrace that."
The Steelers have arguably the best linebacking corps in the NFL. Here is a look at their four starters:
James Harrison, ROLB: Entering fifth season as a starter, seventh on Steelers' all-time sacks list with 49.
Lawrence Timmons, RILB: First-round pick in 2007 may be next in line for a long-term contract.
James Farrior, LILB: Ageless wonder is coming off season in which he recorded 109 tackles and six sacks.
LaMarr Woodley, LOLB: Highest-paid defensive player in franchise history.