Here’s our feature on Jerel Worthy originally published Mar. 29…
Michigan State defensive tackle Jerel Worthy put together an undeniably impressive 2011 season.
His 31 tackles, 10.5 for a loss and 3.5 sacks earned him consensus first-team All-American honors from several outlets and made him a likely first-round NFL Draft choice come April.
But it’s Worthy’s inconsistency, the times he appears to take plays off, that have pro football evaluators and analysts wondering about his future.
The question was posed to Worthy at the NFL Combine back in February, is the knock on his lack of consistency fair?
“To an extent, but at the same time it’s just something that you have to work through,” said Worthy. “It’s something I’ve grown and gotten better at, from the beginning of my season last year to the end of my season. I showed up in a lot of marquee games and laid my imprint on the game, and it was something that I wanted to work at. Getting better at playing against high level competition––Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio State––with great offensive lines, I wanted to be dominant the whole game. That will only come with hard work in practice, and off the field growing in maturity and getting better.”
At least Worthy didn’t avoid the question. He acknowledged the criticism and did his best to spin it into a positive, which came off as sincere.
And there’s no doubt Worthy is capable of dominating. He did so many times throughout his college career, not only his junior season in 2011 but even during his freshman and sophomore seasons in 2009 and 2010 as well.
It’s part of the reason Michigan State has been able to beat in-state rival and traditional powerhouse Michigan each year of Worthy’s career. Those victories led Worthy to getting a tattoo on his left arm of a Spartan posed victoriously over a Michigan football player.
But the past is over for Worthy, and now he has to prove he belongs in the NFL, perhaps even as a member of the Green Bay Packers who own the 28th pick in the first round, near where Worthy could come off the board.
The reasons for selecting Worthy are obvious. He has an innate ability to penetrate into opposing backfields. That’s something the Packers have missed from their defensive line since Cullen Jenkins departed for the Philadelphia Eagles via free agency a year ago.
Worthy was so good at slicing past offensive linemen in college, it was sometimes to his team’s dentriment by incurring offsides penalties, however.
“It’s something I’m trying to get better at, using my attributes in a positive way,” said Worthy. “I know in the NFL you can’t do that. Jumping offsides will only get you put on the bench. But at the same time, I’m not going to stop doing what I do as far as getting off the ball fast.
“I’m just going to learn how to enhance it, learn how to get better, staying onsides and learning that when that ball moves, that’s when I have to move. It just comes with preparation, comes with practice and getting a rhythm. In the NFL, you don’t get a rhythm for snap counts. You’ve got great guys, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning coming back. You’ve got a lot of guys that change up the snap count very well.”
Anyone that’s seen Aaron Rodgers pull defenders offsides with his cadence knows the challenge Worthy will face. Perhaps facing a guy like Rodgers in practice every day would help in this regard.
It’s a deep defensive line group in this year’s draft, and Worthy could be one of several players from the position the Packers would consider drafting.
“I’ve got first round grades on anywhere from five to seven defensive tackles,” said Draft analyst Mike Mayock of the NFL Network in a conference call with the media.
Among the other first-round options for defensive linemen are Memphis’ Dontari Poe, LSU’s Michael Brockers, Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox, Penn State’s Devon Still and Connecticut’s Kendall Reyes. Choosing the best fit out that group might come down to off-the-field concerns.
As far as being a good egg, a high-character person, Worthy is trying his best. As evidenced by the term “Packer people” in Mike McCarthy’s mission statement the Packers released upon his hiring, being a person of integrity of important.
Worthy said part of the reason he’s entering the Draft is to help his family, including his father who had a stroke before the 2011 season began.
One of the things Worthy wanted teams to see at the Combine was his work ethic and character.
“I’m a great individual off the field, a good character guy,” said Worthy. “I interact with a lot of people very well, I’m a hard worker and the consistency knock is something that can easily be erased. By going out here, when we run and go through drills, I just want to prove that I’m ready for the pro level. I came out a year early, but at the same time I’ve grown in maturity and I’ve grown over these last couple of months and I’m ready to showcase my talents.”