Jones focused on big second season for Steelers
LATROBE – His Twitter handle is SacManJones_29.
That Jarvis Jones had just one quarterback sack in his rookie season with the Steelers, perhaps that name was fitting.
After all, he wasn’t Sac(s)ManJones_29.
Jones hopes to make those sacks a plurality in 2014.
“That’s my name, man. It’s copyrighted,” Jones said Saturday at the Steelers training camp at Saint Vincent College. “I’ve got to live up to the name.”
It was something Jones did at the University of Georgia, where he was an All-America linebacker and the Sotheastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, leading major college football with 14 1/2 sacks.
The Steelers made him the 17th pick in the 2013 draft and the first linebacker selected.
Despite being given a starting job for the Steelers at right outside linebacker coming out of training camp, the explosiveness he displayed in college didn’t translate to the NFL. Jones struggled with assignments and was eventually benched in favor of Jason Worilds, though he did wind up starting eight games because of injuries to LaMarr Woodley, who has since been released. That leaves Jones and Worilds as the Steelers’ unquestioned outside linebacker tandem.
It also means the Steelers can’t have a performance from Jones like the one they got last season if they are to improve on an 8-8 record and 34 total sacks.
“It was different. I wasn’t productive. It hurt,” Jones said of his rookie season. “I’m not used to being in that position. Ever since I started playing football in high school, I was always successful. It was humbling, but it just makes you want to work harder. That’s the approach I took. I wanted to work extra hard during this offseason to get there, so that’s what I did.”
The Steelers brought in former Pro Bowl linebacker Joey Porter as an assistant coach to work with their outside linebackers. Porter and Jones quickly formed a bond. And after the Steelers offseason workouts were completed, Jones went home to Atlanta and worked out with other NFL players, including Kansas City linebacker Justin Houston, who had 11 sacks in in 11 games last year.
“I want to work on all aspects of my game. Everybody puts me down as a pass rusher, so that’s the main thing this year,” Jones said. “I’ve been doing a lot of work this offseason. I’ve been working with a lot of good people who are pass rushers. Let’s just hope it all comes together this season. I feel really good about myself and where I’m at this season.”
Jones’ teammates know he has been dedicated to improving. They see it in the film room when he’s asking questions of linebackers coach Keith Butler and on the field when he’s working with Porter.
“It was tough in his first year,” said inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons. “Coming to this system and trying to play early is difficult. You rarely see it. Just to have that responsibility is tough. But I feel Coach Butler is doing a great job with him. (Porter) being here and working with him on his pass rush is going to be a great help as well.”
Jones said he had an impromptu coaching session late last season from an unusual source, Cleveland left tackle Joe Thomas. The Browns and Steelers played in the regular-season final, and Jones said that Thomas, a perennial All-Pro, was giving him tips.
“I think the main thing is that I had to work on my technique and my steps,” Jones said. “I’m playing against the best blockers on the team on the left side. Those guys watch film. They break it down. I was talking to Joe Thomas from the Browns. We were just having a conversation throughout the game as far as hand placement and stuff like that.”
Apparently, nobody, not even an opponent, likes to see a high-pedigree player struggle.
“There’s pressure to play this game, regardless (of expectations),” Jones said. “I’ve just got to continue to go out there and work hard, something I’ve been doing the whole offseason. If I can continue to do that, everything else will come.”
Odds and end zones
The Steelers practice at 3 p.m. today. It is open to the public. … Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wore a yellow No. 99 jersey Saturday for the position drill portion of practice to honor longtime Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel, who was not re-signed. For the team portion of practice, Roethlisberger switched back to his white No. 7 jersey. … Guard Ramon Foster, who is dealing a death in his family, was replaced in the No. 1 offensive unit by Cody Wallace. Veteran Will Allen subbed for injured free safety Mike Mitchell with the first-team defense.