An excited buzz in training camp and a successful preseason back in 2013 put Jarvis Jones in a starting role as a rookie. In year one, he failed to live up to the hype. Is the positive buzz this year any different?
Gerry Dulac of the Post-Gazette reports that Jones has shown some “punch” thus far in his second camp as a Steeler. Jones has exhibited some pass rush skills that he appeared to lack in 2013. Last season, Jones often looked like he had run out of options when his bull rush was stymied on his way to the quarterback.
The tools that Jones used to get to the quarterback when he led the country in sacks while at Georgia were primarily athleticism and over powering blockers in front of him. That hasn’t worked so far for Jones in the NFL.
Being swallowed up by a single blocker play after play really isn’t an option for a starting outside backer in a 3-4 defense. Jones couldn’t get off blocks in the pass game or the run game. This lack of effectiveness can possibly be attributed to a few things.
Learning an NFL defense, especially one as complicated as that employed by the Steelers, can severely impair a player’s ability to react. When a player is used to being a better athlete than the man across from him, the playing field might shift significantly once the opponent is also one of the most talented athletes in the world.
Remedies for both of these issues may well be in place this time around. First, Jones has gained the experience of an NFL season. He should know the defense well, and not require the time to think, rather just react. In the final game of the season against the Cleveland Browns Jones was all over the field and looked like a different player than he had been all season—hopefully, an indication of his progress.
A second key is the addition of Joey Porter as a defensive assistant. It seems that this is a good opportunity for Jones to learn some more detailed techniques and nuances of the pass rush and block shedding portion of his role.
Jones has also said that he got stronger during the offseason. He didn’t add any weight, but is certain that his strength has improved.
An improved pass rush is the easiest way to help a secondary that struggled in 2013. The backend unit of the defense was a real weakness last season. If Jones provides a consistent rush along with fellow bookend backer, Jason Worilds, the Steelers’ DBs and safeties will be thankful.
Last year, there were a lot of expectations concerning the Georgia linebacker, but not a lot of production. Hopefully, the optimism this year will lead to some regular season success. If not, the release of a former pro bowl outside linebacker just under the age of thirty might sting a bit.
If Jones has a better grasp of the offense, a better selection of pass rush moves, and improved strength, then perhaps the Steelers will be thankful they let him cut his teeth as a starter his rookie year. As with most training camp speculation, time will tell.