Jones could be rare rookie defensive starter for Steelers
Rookie Jarvis Jones is quickly making his mark with the Steelers. Jones will see plenty of action against the Titans Sunday.
PITTSBURGH – Normally, a linebacker works his way into the starting lineup as a rookie for the Steelers because of necessity, not merit.
But Jarvis Jones might be one of the rare exceptions to that rule.
While Jones won’t start in Sunday’s regular season opener against the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field, he played well enough in the preseason that head coach Mike Tomlin elevated him to a co-starter role with veteran Jason Worilds.
It seems only a matter of time before Jones, who was brought in to help ease the loss of James Harrison, works his way into the lineup on a full-time basis.
“Jones is going to play,” said Tomlin, even though Jones has been limited in practice early this week because of a sprained AC joint in his chest suffered two weeks ago in a preseason game.
It’s hard to deny the talent that enticed the Steelers to select Jones with the 17th pick in this year’s draft.
As a senior at Georgia, Jones recorded 14 1/2 sacks to lead all NCAA Division I players and was named the Defensive Player of the Year in the SEC.
But the Steelers have taken other talented linebackers early in drafts in previous years, Worilds, Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley among them. The last rookie to make more than a spot start or fill in as an injury replacement for the Steelers at linebacker was Kendrell Bell, another Gerogia product, in 2001.
Jones, however, had an advantage over those players. Because he played outside linebacker at Georgia – which uses a 3-4 defense similar to the Steelers’ – he hasn’t had to learn a new position.
“You can definitely tell he’s used to coverage,” said Worilds, who will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. “That was a learning curve that the other guys that came here had to adjust to, whether it took a training camp or longer. You could tell he is used to backpedalling and looking at receivers.”
Jones admits the transition has been easier for him. But he’s still in the process of learning Pittsburgh’s complex defensive playbook.
“I’m pretty comfortable with most of it. We’ve got a lot of information,” Jones said. “We don’t use all of our plays. We’ve got a certain amount of plays that we’ll use against certain teams according to what those teams do. That’s how we game plan. You get those plays, then you have to go back down over the list of plays that we installed weeks ago and kind of refresh.”
In that respect, the defense the Steelers employ is different than the one Jones played in at Georgia. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s playbook isn’t quite as thick as that of the offense, but it’s not far off.
“We’ve got quite a few things that we like to do here,” Jones said. “I think Coach LeBeau has been doing a great job of installing and preparing us.”
Jones isn’t quite sure how much playing time he’ll see moving forward, but he wants to make the most of the chances he gets.
“Obviously, co-starter is great for me,” Jones said. “I get an opportunity. That’s all I need is an opportunity to get out there and showcase what I can do. Most importantly, is for us to play good as a unit.”
The Steelers signed cornerback Isaiah Green, released from the active roster earlier this week, to their practice squad. Cornerback Devin Smith was released from the practice squad. … Running back Le’Veon Bell (foot) was the only player who did not practice Wednesday. … Tight end Heath Miller (knee) and fullback Will Johnson (hamstring) were limited.