Paul Worrilow's growth from an undrafted rookie that earned his place on an NFL roster, into the playcaller and leader of the Falcons defense has been one of professional football's most inspiring storylines over the last three seasons. Worrilow, the former walk-on at Delaware that ended up starting four seasons and racking up 377 collegiate tackles, arrived at Falcons Training Camp in May of 2013 fighting for a spot on the roster.
With a mindset to take on whatever role was asked of him and a fundamentally-driven work ethic to go with his coachable personality, he was a play away from getting the opportunity he spent his whole life preparing for. That break came when an injury to former Falcon Sean Weatherspoon thinned out the linebacker corps and the rookie was asked to take reps at all three linebacker positions in the days leading up to the four-game preseason slate. By the time the 2013 preseason opener against the Bengals rolled around, Worrilow was becoming fluent with the NFL playbook. He had earned the respect of his teammates and coaches with his knowledge and work ethic at camp and was ready to leave it all on the field.
"Just being a former walk-on and not getting any offers out of high school I have always sort of had this chip on my shoulder," admitted Worrilow following his professional debut. "When I walked through the tunnel, it finally sunk in that I was here in the NFL and I had made it."
With a game-high 11 tackles in his exhibition debut, Worrilow showed that he was not only competing for a spot on the roster, but that he was ready to contend for a starting job with the 2013 season just weeks away and the Falcons needing someone to step up.
Just like he did with the Blue Hens, Worrilow successfully earned the starting job in Atlanta's linebacker corps upon arrival and has held it ever since. He paced the Falcons defense with team-high tackles in both 2013 and 2014, compiling 270 combined take downs in his first 32 games. Worrilow faced a new challenge this past offseason, however, as Dan Quinn and the new coaching staff arrived and the starting roles re-opened with position battles across the defense.
He would have to prove his leadership and play-making ability all over again in order to help spearhead a new and improved defensive scheme. That was the particular environment Worrilow has thrived in throughout his football career, however, and the third-year pro rose to the occasion once again.
"I've been counted out time and time again," explained Worrilow. "I love football, you know? It doesn't motivate me that I've been counted out. I just love the game of football and that's what keeps me motivated, why I get in here and do what I do every day."
After fine-tuning aspects of his game and leading the newly-assembled defense through one of the most competitive offseasons the franchise has seen, Worrilow opened 2015 with a game-high 13 tackles in a 26-24 Monday Night Football win over Philadelphia.
"Mobility is something they [the coaching staff] wanted me to focus on and I've been working on that every morning, whether it's 20 minutes or an hour, I schedule it so I get here an hour and a half early so I can get that in," explained Worrilow. "Strength and conditioning is a huge interest of mine. Even if I didn't play football, working out would be a huge part of my life."
While mobility has been the theme for Worrilow since the end of last season, the fundamentals and work-ethic that has been the staple of his gridiron success was noticed and respected by Quinn right away.
"I think the thing that jumped out to me when I got here was the grit [of Worrilow]. Once in a while, you see somebody who's just absolutely going for it, like wanting to take every challenge and improve in every way," Quinn explained in an interview with Delaware's The News Journal. "That was him. From the time I met him in the offseason to being here – I'd walk through on Saturday and see his car there. He just didn't back off. I think that mindset certainly rubs off on his teammates. That's the respect that he has. In a short time, to earn that kind of respect, I thought it was a great sign for him."
We know where Worrilow's story began and we know the type of impact No. 55 must have week in and week out to be a leader on this defense, but what adds to Worrilow's impact is where his journey might continue to take him. His new role is leading and the days of proving himself are over.
Atlanta ranked ninth in the NFL after the Giants game in run defense and with a pass rush that can force quicker throws, opponents have been forced into more third-and-long passing situations. This has allowed Worrilow and the linebacking corps to play downhill on third downs and the result in Week 1 was a Philadelphia converting just 3-of-12 on third down.
"We expected that coming in, when he's feeling pressure, or cant get the stuff down field that ball is going to come out in front of us, or in the soft spots of the zone," explained Worrilow. "So the emphasis was on tackling and making them pay when they catch that easy ball down there."
There is no denying that a lot has changed from Worrilow's first offseason with the Falcons when he was fighting for a roster spot. Now, he's a married man and father carrying back-to-back seasons of leading the team in tackling into each game, but the same determination and willingness to improve remains.
"This defense preaches intensity, attitude and effort and that is something I think I bring," said Worrilow.