In his most-recent “Mailbag,” ESPN’s Jamison Hensley answered the following when he was asked which players would lead each AFC North team in sacks this year:
I certainly do not want to sound like a “Negative Nancy,” but I believe that there is zero chance whatsoever that Jones will lead the Steelers in sacks during his rookie campaign. Moreover, I cannot understand why someone who is a supposed “AFC North insider” like Hensley would make such a ridiculous and ill-informed prediction.
For one thing, Hensley has to know that being a rookie, particularly a rookie outside linebacker, on the Steelers defense is a “scarlet letter” of sorts when it comes to potential opportunities for playing time. All one has to do is simply look at the last ten years under LeBeau’s second stint as the team’s defensive coordinator and depth chart on the defensive side of the ball.
At this stage of his career, Jones will already have to sit behind “Mr. Stay Puft” Woodley and Jason Worilds on the depth chart unless injuries strike. With James Harrison gone, Woodley is the team’s most experienced pass-rushing threat. Worilds on the other hand will likely be given every opportunity to win Harrison’s old job, especially since he is in a contract year. Outside of the starters though, Jones will also have to leap-frog both Adrian Robinson and Chris Carter for the top backup job.
While it is hard to see Jones overtaking Woodley and Worilds on the depth chart during his first year, he could have trouble beating out Robinson and Carter for backup reps due to the fact that Dick LeBeau’s complex defensive scheme. Both Robinson and Carter have more experience under the LeBeau regime, and the 2013 1st round pick will need to beat them out just to receive time as the team’s third outside linebacker.
Unfortunately, raw talent alone will not guarantee Jones large amounts of playing time. The Steelers’ defense has been littered with early round picks who saw essentially zero action during their first years in the league like LaMarr Woodley, Ziggy Hood, Cameron Heyward, Lawrence Timmons, etc.. So although Jarvis has the tenacity and physical tools to rush the passer, I highly doubt he will even be inserted into sub-packages if he cannot understand the scheme or drop back in coverage against the pass adequately.
On many teams, Jones would likely see the field and receive opportunities to succeed in situations which highlight his skill-set during his first year. In fact, if Hensley said that the former Georgia Bulldog would lead another N.F.L. team in sacks this fall, I would be inclined to agree with him.
Jones however plays for the Steelers, and in Pittsburgh it has been customary for rookies on the defensive side of the ball to ride the pine until they get splinters with LeBeau & Co. in charge. Heck, if Jones can record more than three sacks this year I will be surprised because that will mean he actually saw the field and gained some experience at outside linebacker.
While members of the coaching staff apparently like what they have seen regarding Jones’ skill-set, I’ll hold my reservations on whether or not he will actually play when the regular season begins. LeBeau loves his “veteran pacifiers,” and Jarvis has still not taken a preseason snap.
Make no mistake though, readers. I will be rooting hard for the rookie outside linebacker to see the field this fall and gain as much experience as possible. If history is any indication though, I will bank on him seeing extensive and numerous reps at outside linebacker this fall.
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