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Worrilow and the rookie: A timeless training camp tale

Goober Pyle

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Back at your job, how would you handle it? The new hire is this bright, 21-year-old right out of college, brimming with the skills that custom fit the company’s vision of the future. A real up-and-comer, that one. And the lamination on his ID card hasn’t even cooled yet.

He’d be the one they’d put on the cover of the monthly company newsletter, beneath the headline: “Tomorrow’s Ideas Today.” You they might mention on the back page, under “Anniversaries.”

Everyone loves the shiny latest thing over the tried and true, the new-car smell of undefined potential over the familiar feel of the well-worn norm. And you can read it as clearly as the annual budget, this is someone being measured for your position.

Paul Worrilow appears to be dealing with this much better than most. Hard to tell exactly, for the potentially fourth-year Falcons linebacker is the kind of guy you could tell the seas were about to swallow the land and he’d keeping hammering away on the addition to his sun deck. He’s not exactly one to sit around bemoaning his fate.

Coming out of the wilderness, an undrafted free agent from a second-tier program, Worrilow has been one of the NFL’s signature over-achievers. Imagine, a guy who even had to walk on at Delaware, blessed with no abundance of size or speed, already having exceeded the average career life span of the NFL player (which has fallen to just 2.66 years according to a Wall Street Journal study).

+Worrilow and the rookie: A timeless training camp tale photo
Paul Worrilow plants one on 15-month-old daughter Juliet after a day at Falcons training camp. (Curtis Compton /ccompton@ajc.com)

When he arrived at Flowery Branch in 2013, coaches couldn’t even keep Worrilow’s name straight kept, constantly confusing him for another faceless training-camp worker bee. Contingency plans were on the drawing board. “I wanted to go talk to my dad to see if I could get a job at the refinery that he works at back home (he’s retiring this year),” Worrilow remembered.

Ever since, the Falcons have kept looking for someone to replace him. And ever since, for the past three seasons, Worrilow kept leading the team in tackles.

The search got especially serious this year when the Falcons drafted not one, but two linebackers in the first four rounds. One of them, second-round pick Deion Jones out of LSU, spent much of Thursday’s opening preseason game playing Worrilow’s old position inside, the rookie even relaying the defensive signals in the huddle. Out of habit, Jones kept glancing to the sideline looking for the coach’s call as he did in college, only to have the commands beam directly into his helmet, NFL high-tech style.

Deion Jones (45) hastens to the quarterback during a Falcons pass-rush drill. (Curtis Compton /ccompton@ajc.com)

Jones, and fourth-round pick De’Vondre Cambpell are just the kind of accelerants that Dan Quinn likes to add to his defense — Jones got very popular when he eclipsed 4.4 seconds in his 40-yard dash at LSU’s Pro Day this spring.

As mundane as the preseason is, Thursday’s first game still was a thrill for the first-timers. For Jones, the best moment of the night — even beyond being on the kick-return unit that brought one back 101 yards — was “first running out and feeling the crowd, finally getting to feel the atmosphere.”

The player whose father named him after Deion Sanders — and now playing in the very stadium that Sanders once claimed as “my house” — was even shaky before a game that didn’t count. But the veterans such as Worrilow, the guy he may not so subtly be nudging aside, were a big help. “Thanks to the older guys in the room, it made me feel a little bit better. Took the nervousness out.”

+Worrilow and the rookie: A timeless training camp tale photo
In the first quarter of the first preseason game against Washington, Paul Worrilow meets Redskins running back Matt Jones. (AP Photo/Brynn ... Read More

And the reaction from Worrilow, after watching Jones speed from sideline to sideline, supplying exactly the kind of uncompromising pursuit that Quinn covets, for a couple quarters?

“It was a lot of fun, especially seeing the young guys out there flying around. That’s awesome,” he said. “They killed it.”

Not a drop of forced sincerity evident in a word of what he said.

Worrilow is well aware that this preseason represents his biggest challenge since perhaps his first one with the team. He is facing a cutback in playing time and prominence, as he works this preseason more on the weak side than the middle. Perhaps his very spot on the roster is in jeopardy. But then why should 2016 be any different than just about any other he has suited up?

“Every year I’ve been playing football, it has felt like your back’s against the wall. If that pushes me, I don’t know,” he said.

One of the first people Jones heard from after the draft was Worrilow, via a welcoming tweet. Since arriving, Jones said, Worrilow has, “guided me, showed me what it takes to be a pro — from recovery to mental aspect to getting ready for games.”

The veteran and the rookie have more in common than you might believe.

At 26, just five years older than Jones, Worrilow is so consumed by contact sport that he even seeks out more. This offseason, he dropped in on a mixed martial arts gym in Buford. Soon he began working out there, initially to sharpen his tackling skills, but then to actually bond with that MMA community.

One wonders, could there be a future in cage fighting for him one day after football. “I wouldn’t rule it out, despite what my wife would say,” Worrilow said.

As for Jones, he picked up the kind of nickname at LSU that doesn’t normally attach to the timid: “War Daddy.”

Both seem comfortable performing whatever chore is necessary in order to see a football game to its conclusion. Separately, they were present on all forms of special teams Thursday night. The Falcons’ leading tackler the past three seasons is not too proud to do this version of stoop labor (in fact, he loves it). And Jones thrived on special teams while awaiting his chance to start on defense for LSU, which wasn’t until he was a senior.

“Football is football to me, it doesn’t matter what play, what part of the game it is,” Worrilow said. “If I’m out there I want to play my best and dominate my role. Roles change. Whatever your role is, the attitude is that you’re going to own it.”

There is nothing in Jones’ past to suggest that he would disagree. They are twins on this matter.

It is what separates the two that counts most here in August, in the timeless competition between vet and rookie, in the hardest knock workplace imaginable.


Edited by Goober Pyle
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The team hadn't brought in anybody to replace him until this year....the writer makes it seem like they have tried and failed....i guess you can count the year we brought 4 guys...all who were not good players except shembo....and he was an outside backer being forced inside....akeem dent, who worriloe replaced was his last competition teally until this season......a feel good story for sure....we are chasing a championship. We needed and got studs.... leave the lifetime movies plot lines on cable

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Honestly, while Worillo isn't the most gifted athlete on the field, I believe it would be a mistake to cut him this year....his veteran presence and work ethic alone, justifies keeping him at least another year to help mold "da future". But the PW haters will be here soon to derail the thread, so might as well just shrug and say "whatever".

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