Steelers’ Jones disappointed with rookie season

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PITTSBURGH – Jarvis Jones knows what the expectations were for his rookie season with the Steelers.

He knows that people expected him to step in for James Harrison and play like he did in his final season at Georgia, where he led major college football in sacks with 14 1/2. And he knows he hasn’t done that.

Playing in 12 of the Steelers’ 13 games – he missed one with a concussion – Jones has 29 tackles, one sack and nine quarterback pressures. He’s also added five tackles on special teams.

It’s not what anyone, including Jones, had in mind for the 17th pick in the draft.

“The expectations were so high,” said Jones. “I didn’t do what everybody expected me to do. Everybody expected me to come in and get 10, 12 sacks. I didn’t do that. It’s motivation for me.”

The Steelers (5-8) have three games remaining. Though they haven’t been officially eliminated from playoff contention, heading into their game Sunday night at Heinz Field against Cincinnati (9-4), the Steelers are facing the reality of a second consecutive non-playoff season and perhaps its first losing season since 2003.

Jones began the season as a co-starter with Jason Worilds at the right outside linebacker position formerly held by James Harrison. Harrison was released in the offseason in a cost-cutting move and signed with Cincinnati, where he has 36 tackles and two sacks.

In a Sept. 16 loss to Cincinnati, Jones became the first Steelers rookie to start at outside linebacker since 1982. But he’s been in and out of the lineup and Worilds has emerged as a consistent playmaker.

Worilds has flipped sides of the defense with linebacker LaMarr Woodley, leaving Jones to try to find playing time at the same position as the Steelers’ highest-paid defender.

“I’m going to try to take advantage of the opportunities that I do get,” Jones said. “You get the mental reps from it, too. When I’m on the sideline, I’m watching LaMarr and Jason. I’m watching them, so that when I get into the game, I won’t be so lost.”

According to defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, those moments when Jones has been lost have been few and far between of late.

“I think his whole game needs growth, but he has shown steady growth,” said LeBeau. “He’s been asked to play more than what we normally ask our first-year linebackers to play. In the end, that’s going to be a big benefit to him because he’s got that in-game experience. His out-of-position errors have diminished. He almost never is in the wrong place now. The more comfortable he gets, you’re going to see, this guy is going to be a really good football player.”

Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu knows what Jones has gone through. A first-round pick in 2003, Polamalu played sparingly as a rookie while struggling to grasp the defensive scheme. But after a nondescript rookie season, he had a breakthough season in 2004, earning the first of seven trips to the Pro Bowl.

“You’re out there thinking and you’re not playing free,” said Polamalu. “That’s the frustrating thing about it because you can’t enjoy the game that you’ve grown to love. You tend to think, because you’re 21 years old, that you’ve got it figured out.”

Jones is smart enough to realize that isn’t the case. He knows the areas in which he needs to improve.

“Everybody is bigger, faster and stronger (than in college),” Jones said. “I think technique is what gets you over the edge. As far as being a student of the game, it’s paying attention to the older guys, the way they prepare and study. They line up and see things before they happen. For me, I’ve got to get to that level. That comes with a lot of studying and preparation.”

Odds and end zones

Polamalu (shoulder), defensive end Brett Keisel (foot) and nose tackle Steve McLendon (ankle) all sat out practice Thursday. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (foot) was limited. Left tackle Kelvin Beachum, right tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle), guard David DeCastro (ankle), wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery (shoulder) and defensive end Ziggy Hood (ankle) were full participants. ... A sack by Worilds against Miami was changed by official scorers to an aborted play by the Dolphins. Worilds leads the Steelers with seven sacks.

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