This is part 11 in our position-by-position review of the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers. If you haven’t read the previous installments, please click below:
If you haven’t read Part 1 (offensive tackles), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 2 (guards), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 3 (centers), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 4 (tight ends), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 5 (wide receivers), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 6 (running backs), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 7 (quarterbacks), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 8 (nose tackles), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 9 (defensive ends), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 10 (linebackers), click here.
We began looking at the linebackers in part 10 of this series, and we’ll finish discussing them in this installment. We’ll start with
Jason Worilds was drafted out of Virginia Tech two years ago with the hope that he would become the heir apparent to James Harrison. Worilds was a pass rush specialist in college, and the Steelers hoped to see much the same from him in the pros. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet.
Don’t get me wrong, Worilds hasn’t played badly. He just hasn’t played great.
Injuries have also hampered Worilds’ development. He was injured for much of his rookie season, and then when his opportunity came up in 2011, he got hurt.
Worilds was in a perfect position to replace James Harrison when Harrison sat out for 4 games with an injury. But Worilds got hurt at the same time, and he sat out those same 4 games. So he didn’t get an opportunity to show what he could do as Harrison’s replacement.
Fortunately for Worilds (but unfortunately for the Steelers), LaMarr Woodley went down with an injury as soon as James Harrison came back from his. So Worilds got the opportunity to replace Woodley on the left side.
Worilds accumulated 38 tackles and 3 sacks while replacing Woodley. Those are acceptable numbers. The one area of concern was that Worilds didn’t show an ability to pressure the quarterback the way that Woodley and Harrison do. But of course, not many players in the NFL can pressure the quarterback the way Woodley and Harrison do.
My hope for Worilds is that he’ll continue to develop as a player, and that he’ll learn to take better care of his body so he won’t get hurt so often.
We all feel bad that the Steelers released long-time starter James Farrior. But the reality is that Farrior had been showing visible signs of slowing down for the past 3 seasons.
Farrior is 37 years old, and he would have turned 38 during the 2012 season. That’s ancient for an NFL player.
As much as I appreciate all of the work that Farrior has done for the Steelers, it was time for them to give a younger player a chance.
Even as an aging player, Farrior was a smart football player, and he called most of the defenses for the Steelers’ front 7. That’s going to be the most difficult thing for the Steelers to replace. But either Stevenson Sylvester or Larry Foote are capable of replacing what Farrior could do physically.
Larry Foote has been with the Steelers since 2002, the same year that James Farrior joined the team. The two of them spent many years playing side-by-side. The difference is that Foote is only 31 years old.
The Steelers began platooning Foote for Farrior last season. That action was what first made fans question Farrior’s future with the team.
Foote played solidly, but not outstandingly in Farrior’s place (and in place of Lawrence Timmons when he was moved to the outside).
At this point in his career, I’d rather see Foote as a backup rather than as a starter. I think it’s time for the Steelers to give Stevenson Sylvester a chance to win the starting job.
Stevenson Sylvester hasn’t gotten many opportunities to play at the linebacker position. That’s what happens when you play behind guys like Lawrence Timmons, James Farrior, and Larry Foote. However, now that James Farrior is no longer with the team, this should be Sylvester’s year to shine.
While it’s not clear who will replace Farrior in the starting lineup, Sylvester is now listed as the starter on the Steelers’ depth chart.
Although Sylvester hasn’t gotten many opportunities to play at linebacker, he has been an absolute demon on special teams. His aggressiveness there is a good sign. I remember when James Harrison and Brett Keisel proved themselves as wrecking machines on special teams.
Chris Carter dressed for 8 games, and made a total of 3 tackles during his rookie season. That wasn’t enough to make a fair assessment. So for now, he gets an incomplete. Hopefully, we’ll get to see more of him next year so we can make an accurate assessment.
It’s possible that the Steelers could draft a linebacker. Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower is often mentioned as a possible Steelers draft pick. But even if they take him, it is highly unlikely that a rookie will be able to step into the Steelers’ starting lineup. Dick LeBeau’s defense is just too complex. I may be forgetting someone, but Casey Hampton is the last rookie that I can remember who became a starter on the Steelers’ defense. Troy Polamalu didn’t do it. Neither did Brett Keisel, or Ziggy Hood, or James Harrison, or LaMarr Woodley, or Ike Taylor, or Cameron Heyward. I’m not saying that it’s impossible. But it’s highly unlikely.