When the Pittsburgh Steelers cut Joey Porter during March of 2007 there were a lot of questions as to who would step in to replace him. Porter was considered one of, if not the, best players on the Steelers defense and their biggest off-season need immediately became finding a replacement. However, what analysts and some fans failed to realize was the Steelers already had their replacement waiting in the wings.
James Harrison served as Porter’s back-up during the 2004, 2005 and 2006 seasons and was ready to step in as the starter when Porter was released. During the 2007 draft the Steelers selected outside linebackers in the first two rounds with Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley. Many believed that Timmons would immediately take over for Porter at outside linebacker, but Steelers enthusiasts knew that Timmons had been selected to move inside.
In fact, the Steelers had drafted Timmons to play inside and Woodley as a future replacement for Clark Haggans and they were prepared to go with Harrison at outside linebacker. Six years later looking back the Steelers made a very good decision during the 2007 off-season to turn things over to Harrison. He went on to become the 2008 defensive players of the year and helped lead the Steelers to two Super Bowls and one championship as a starter.
Now six years and eight days after his predecessor was cut for financial reasons Harrison found himself on the chopping block as well. The Steelers now are in need of a replacement at right outside linebacker once again and many are hoping that Jason Worilds can pull a Harrison and make us all forget about what he did for the team. The problem is that Worilds isn’t as highly regarded as Harrison was when he took over.
During the 2007 off-season coaches and players had the following things to say about Harrison:
“I have an idea of what I think James Harrison is capable of and I think it’s going to be more than enough,” said, then new coach, Mike Tomlin. “We’re going to get great outside linebacker play.”
“I don’t expect us to miss a beat with James Harrison in there at the outside ‘backer,” said Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau. “Any games that he’s played, our defense has not missed a beat, and he’s always been a contributing factor to that, so I have every confidence in the world in him.”
“He’s not Joey Porter,” said James Farrior, “but he’s a great player. We’re not expecting any kind of dropoff. He’s going to do good things out there.”
Many fans may forget, but back during the off-season of 2007 many inside and outside of the organization were excited about what James Harrison could bring to the table. In 2004 Harrison replaced Porter at linebacker when Porter was ejected before the start of the game for a fight with a Cleveland Browns player. Harrison recorded his first career sack in that game and led the team in tackles. From that point on Steelers fans knew they had another star linebacker in the waiting. That kind of excitement does not exist, at least in the same amounts, with Jason Worilds this off-season.
Even so, the Steelers rarely start rookies on their defense (the last one was Kendrell Bell in 2001) which means the most likely starter is Worilds. Unless of course the Steelers move LaMarr Woodley to the right side, which may be their best option, or re-sign Harrison for one more season in Pittsburgh, which is unlikely to happen at this point mainly due to pride than a lack of interest by the two sides.
With those options unlikely to come to fruition that leaves Worilds to take over at right outside linebacker and he has very large shoes to fill. Worilds will step in to replace Harrison, who replace Porter, who replace Jason Gildon, who replaced the combo of Kevin Greene and Greg Lloyd. The Steelers right outside linebacker position is something of legend in Pittsburgh and it will be up to Worilds, in his fourth NFL season, to continue the tradition.
It would come as a rather large surprise if Worilds becomes an All-Pro player like Harrison and Porter before him, but like any other Steelers fan I would not complain if he does. However, unlike Porter, Gildon and Harrison before him Worilds is not stepping in with a lot of optimism surrounding him instead it is pessimism and hope that surround the young linebacker. For the Steelers’ sake, as well as Worilds’, I hope that he has a very good 2013 season and a great career, but at this point it is harder for me to see that happening than it was for me to see Harrison becoming a star when he took over for Porter in 2007.