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Worilds a key figure on defense for Steelers

| Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011

Outside linebacker Jason Worilds had an "a-ha" moment during a recent Steelers practice.

Or so he thought.

"I was going over something that I thought I knew and it ended up being a mental error," Worilds said. "It just goes to show you that no matter how far along I feel like I've come, there's always stuff to learn."

Worilds is in his second season of learning Dick LeBeau's complex defense, and he is still making the transition from defensive end in college to outside linebacker.

But it is safe to say that the training wheels have been gone for quite some time when it comes to the Steelers' 2010 second-round draft pick.

Worilds has quietly emerged as a key figure on the Steelers' defense, due in large part to LaMarr Woodley's cantankerous hamstring.

His continued development is crucial to the Steelers' Super Bowl aspirations since Woodley could be limited or hampered by the hamstring injury he sustained Oct. 30 the rest of the season.

The Steelers had set a snap count for Woodley last Sunday, his first game back from the injury. It didn't become an issue as Woodley all but took himself out of the Steelers' 35-7 win over the Bengals after experiencing fatigue in the tender hamstring.

"Obviously he felt something and he was mature enough to not do any further damage to it," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Monday at his weekly news conference. "I don't know if you would characterize it as a setback at this point. This week will provide that legitimate information for us."

It is hard to imagine Woodley playing Thursday night against the visiting Browns though Tomlin didn't rule it out.

And given how delicate hamstring injuries can be, particularly for pass rushers that depend on short bursts of speed, Woodley is going to have to share snaps at left outside linebacker for the foreseeable future.

Woodley, who leads the Steelers with nine sacks, acknowledged as much after the Bengals game.

Enter Worilds, who has dealt with injury issues of his own and is still learning the nuances of playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.

The 6-2, 262-pounder recorded his first sack of the season in Kansas City, and his comfort level and confidence only figure to increase the more quality snaps he plays.

Tomlin said recently that Worilds' play has been "above the line."

Yesterday, he upgraded the former Virginia Tech star's play to "solid."

He did stop short when asked if Worilds has made the super-sized jump that Tomlin expects in players from their first to second season.

"It's in progress," Tomlin said. "Check back with me."

Chatting with...rookie tight end Weslye Saunders

Q: What did you do with the ball that you caught for your first NFL touchdown?

A: The first couple I get go to my mom and my dad. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them, and I just want to show them how much I appreciate them. Hopefully, I get another one soon so I'll be able to keep that one in my house.

Q: Your dad is an editorial writer for the Raleigh News & Observer. Does that make you a newspaper person as well?

A: Yeah, I was a journalism major at South Carolina and I'm hoping to finish up my degree in the offseason. I'd like to do pretty much the same thing my dad's doing, write opinion pieces, he does a couple of TV shows. He's written a book and he's in the process of writing a screenplay.

Q: What kind of opinion pieces would you like to write?

A: It wouldn't really be about sports but current events or politics. That really gets me going. I can't speak on (politics) right now because that might get me in some trouble, so I won't speak on that, but I could see politics in my future.


"We cannot let Josh Cribbs do to what he's done to us time and time again in the past. We've been dead Indians in his cowboy movie enough." — Steelers coach Mike Tomlin on importance of containing the Browns' return specialist

"It's important to get rolling, playing your best ball this time of year. We're fortunate to get quality players coming back off injury. That's what it takes, getting rolling at the right time and, hopefully, we will." — Defensive end Brett Keisel on playing well in December

"It's getting better and better each week. I'm not full strength, but it's definitely a lot better than it was at the beginning of the year and better than it was last week." — Outside linebacker James Harrison on his back after recording three sacks in the Steelers' 35-7 win over the Bengals

"If he were four inches taller he'd be in the Pro Bowl. As a football player he's one of the best we have." — Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians on starting left guard Doug Legursky


3 — Catches Heath Miller needs to become the Steelers' all-time leader in receptions by a tight end

5 — More takeaways than giveaways the Steelers have had in their last three games

15.6 — Steelers' average margin of victory during their seven-game home winning streak over Browns

99.2 — Ben Roethlisberger's passer rating in 13 career games against the Browns

172 — Consecutive games started by Detroit Lions offensive tackle Jeff Backus, one more than Dick LeBeau, who had held the team record in that category since the early 1970s

1,032 — Receiving yards Antonio Brown is on pace for this season

3 players to watch

Josh Cribbs, WR/RS: Three of Cribbs' eight career kickoff returns for touchdowns have come against the Steelers, and he is averaging 26.4 yards per kickoff return this season. James Harrison's former college teammate always seems to get up for the Steelers, and coach Mike Tomlin has not ruled out kicking the ball away from Cribbs Thursday night.

Rashard Mendenhall, RB: The Browns are first in the NFL in passing defense (173.3 yards per game allowed) and 31st against the run (151.2 yards per game). Look for the Steelers to subject a defense that was gashed for over 200 yards by Ray Rice Sunday to a heavy dose of Mendenhall and Isaac Redman.

Colt McCoy, QB: Cleveland brass is probably still trying to figure out if it has found the real McCoy in what seems to be an endless search for a franchise quarterback. Since making his first NFL start in October of 2010 to the Steelers, McCoy has produced mixed results. He threw five interceptions in two games against the Steelers last season.

Photo Galleries

Steelers vs. Bengals December 4, 2011

Steelers vs. Bengals  December 4, 2011

The Steelers defeat Cincinnati, 35-7, at Heinz Field, Sunday, December 4, 2011.

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