It is "put up or shut up time" for Jason Worilds of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The fourth-year backup outside linebacker will be thrust into a starting role for the 2013 as he hopes to replace James Harrison and continue the legacy of great linebackers for the Steelers.
Expectations are high for Worilds, who has been limited to 10 starts in three years while playing behind two Pro Bowl linebackers. Not only do the Steelers need him to perform, but they need him to perform well—and soon.
Worilds may not have long to prove himself. He is in a contract year and has a first-round rookie pass-rusher in Jarvis Jones who will push him for playing time if he fails to perform.
He is not lacking for financial motivation. Worilds will cash in with the Steelers—or another team—if he has a productive season.
Over his first three seasons, Worilds has proven to be capable of putting up decent numbers when given an opportunity.
Last season, he had five sacks in 422 defensive snaps, according to Football Outsiders. That equates to approximately 10 sacks over the course of a season.
While his sack numbers look impressive on paper, they do not tell the whole story.
In the Steelers’ defensive scheme, outside linebackers have to apply pressure on the quarterback. This may mean getting a sack, but it also may mean simply getting a hurry on the quarterback—something that Worilds has not been able to do on a consistent basis.
When watching Worilds play, he is often invisible on the field. He has picked up sacks when coming in free on the quarterback, but has rarely beaten his blockers to apply consistent pressure.
Considering that he is replacing Harrison—one of the best defenders at hurrying the quarterback—Worilds is going to have to step up his game.
The ability for a defender to get pressure is an underrated aspect of the game. Plays happen when a defender forces a quarterback to scramble and disrupt his timing. It is a trademark of a play-making defense.
An attacking defense will force mistakes. It could simply be a poor pass that results in an incomplete pass, or even better, an interception. Such defenses can disrupt the rhythm of an entire opposing offense and dictate the play of the game.
It is no coincidence that the Steelers have failed to create more turnovers over the past two seasons. That is because they haven’t generated enough pressure on the quarterback.
Worilds is going to need to be a part of such pressure if the Steelers are going to once again become one of the most feared defenses in the league. However, considering everything he has shown so far, he has not proven that he can be an elite pass-rusher.
Over his career, injuries and limited play time have limited Worilds' production. When on the field, he has been inconsistent and has generated sacks based on the scheme rather than pure talent.
Don’t count out Worilds though. Sometimes, all a player needs is experience and he will finally have the opportunity to get on the field—something Worilds didn’t have while playing behind Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.
Worilds is the man now and is going to have to step up his game.
Not only will he need to get to the quarterback, he’ll also be expected to help force turnovers, stop the run and drop into coverage. These are all areas in which he has struggled with in the past.
Last season, Worilds had no forced fumbles or interceptions and was credited with only two passes defended. Teams also took advantage of him on the ground, running directly at him.
It is no wonder that the Steelers attempted to bring back Harrison and then drafted Jones in the first round. The former is a proven playmaker and the latter was one of the most dangerous linebackers in college football last season.
When it comes to the Steelers, the expectations for outside linebackers are high. Whether or not Worilds can meet those expectations remains to be seen and the team has shown signs that they aren’t fully confident that he can get the job done.
They want a linebacker who can play to the level that Harrison played, but Worilds has some doubts that he can accomplish this, according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
"I'm not James Harrison," Worilds told Bouchette. "When Jason Worilds steps on the field, anyone who expects James Harrison is fooling themselves."
Worilds is right, he is not James Harrison and he probably never will be. However, that does not mean that he cannot establish himself as a top pass-rusher capable of putting up double-digit sacks in 2013.
The Steelers got by with a decline in sacks by Harrison over the past two season, but he still played a well-rounded game that made him the best option available. Now that Worilds is on the field, he doesn’t have those same strengths and is going to need to use his ability to get to the passer to make up for his shortcomings.
As long as Worilds can do that, not only will he be the answer in 2013 for the Steelers, but he may be the long-term answer at outside linebacker as well. If not, he will just be keeping the seat warm for Jones.