Worilds' play could have long-term impact

PITTSBURGH -- Jarvis Jones couldn't say enough about the player who has arguably been the Steelers' best pass-rusher this season.

“He's been giving tackles hell,” the Steelers' rookie outside linebacker said Monday.

Who could have guessed that this deep into the season Jones would have been talking about Jason Worilds and not LaMarr Woodley?

Worilds, after all, held on to his starting job at right outside linebacker for all of one game before giving way to Jones. Worilds not only has worked his way back from the early-season demotion to overtake Jones but also has become the Steelers' most disruptive pass-rusher. The fourth-year veteran is a big reason they will put a three-game winning streak on the line Thursday night in Baltimore.

Worilds has three sacks in the last four games, and he has a combined 10 quarterback pressures in the last two weeks while starting at left outside linebacker in place of the injured Woodley.

Quarterback pressures aren't as sexy as sacks but they are often just as effective. Just ask Browns quarterback Jason Campbell.

Worilds absolutely drilled Campbell on Sunday after blowing by Cleveland right tackle Mitchell Schwartz with a sublime spin move. Worilds didn't sack Campbell but forced a hurried throw and probably got into Campbell's head a little bit because of the hard hit.

“Something I need to implement into my game,” Jones said of Worilds' spin move. “He's an incredible pass-rusher.”

Coach Mike Tomlin won't go that far but acknowledged that things have come together for Worilds, who had to make the transition from defensive end in college to outside linebacker. Early in his career, his development was stunted by myriad injuries.

“He is doing what is needed, which is being a solid, veteran guy that's been around here in understanding our culture and climate and knowing that he has to step up and provide consistent play for us, and he has done that, particularly since LaMarr's been down,” Tomlin said. “I think what you're looking at is a natural evolution of a healthy guy that's becoming a veteran football player.”

Worilds, a second-round pick in 2010, is also becoming the kind of player who should force the Steelers to at least re-examine their long-term commitment to Woodley.

The Steelers made Woodley the highest-paid defensive player in franchise history in August 2011, and the seventh-year veteran has been a disappointment relative to the dollars he is making ($61.5 million over six years).

Woodley can't seem to stay healthy, and nagging injuries, such as the calf issue that has sidelined him the past two weeks, continue to raise questions about whether he is carrying too much weight. He is listed at 260 pounds, but Woodley's weight is somewhere between 280 and 290 pounds.

Worilds is in the final year of his contract, so there is no guarantee he will be back after this season. But given his play this season, he has certainly become a more cost-effective option than Woodley, if not the flat-out better pass-rusher of the two.

That's not to say the Steelers should or will release Woodley after the season. But for a team that will need to clear room under the salary cap and has a viable replacement at left outside linebacker, it at least makes sense to question whether Woodley has a long-term future in Pittsburgh.