Steelers' Heyward, Jones set for key roles

September, 3, 2013
9/03/13
3:20
PM ET
PITTSBURGH -- There will be a rotation for the Steelers at outside linebacker. There won't be one at safety. And 2011 first-round pick Cam Heyward played well enough in the preseason to earn a bigger role on defense.

Jones
Heyward
Those were some of the highlights from Steelers coach Mike Tomlin's news conference on Tuesday.

The seventh-year coach said Jason Worilds will start over Jarvis Jones at right outside linebacker. But Tomlin was rather emphatic when he said, “Jones will play.”

Snaps for the rookie apparently won't come only at the expense of Worilds.

Tomlin said he will use a rotation at outside linebacker, and that means there will be times when Jones plays right outside linebacker while Worilds spells LaMarr Woodley at left outside linebacker.

A rotation at outside linebacker makes a lot of sense. It gets Jones, who has the early look of a playmaker, on the field. It should also benefit Woodley, who has battled hamstring problems since November of 2011.

Woodley had just four sacks last season, but the fact that Tomlin will use a rotation is not an indictment of the seventh-year veteran -- or the progress he has made in getting back to Pro Bowl form.

“When healthy he's a force and obviously he wasn't healthy enough last year,” Tomlin said of Woodley. “He has been [healthy] to this point, so I like what I see.”

Tomlin also likes what he sees from Heyward, a defensive end who hasn't made much of an impact in his first two seasons.

“We feel really good about Cam Heyward,” Tomlin said. “I think he's had a very good preseason and training camp. We're going to feature him in some sub-package football. He's going to get a number of snaps. We're excited about that group.”

Tomlin likes to play extra defensive linemen early in the season because of the heat and humidity, and Heyward will take some of the burden off Brett Keisel, who turns 35 later this month.

Expect all six of the defensive linemen on the 53-man roster to be active for the season opener Sunday against the Titans.

Tomlin doesn't anticipate using a rotation at safety even though Ryan Clark turns 34 in October and 32-year-old Troy Polamalu missed nine games last season.

The Steelers drafted Shamarko Thomas in the fourth round last April to get younger at the position, and the former Syracuse star has moved to second on the depth chart at strong safety behind Polamalu.

But Tomlin said he won't spell his starting safeties and that Thomas will play primarily play on special teams.

Scott Brown

ESPN Pittsburgh Steelers reporter

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