A few weeks ago, Nice Pick Cowher’s Craig Gottschalk asked, “Who is Howard Jones?” Craig did so in an article about Mike Adams, who was embarrassed during practice by an undrafted rookie linebacker.
The point of asking, was exactly that we had to ask. Why was Mike Adams, a second round pick from Ohio State University—by now a veteran player—being consistently beaten by an unheralded rookie from Shepherd?
After the Steelers’ first preseason game, we really want to know. Jones is an athlete. His pre draft report on CBS has him running a 4.54 forty, jumping over 40 inches in the vertical, and over 10 feet in the broad jump. Jones has the physical tools. But, he is lean. He spreads just 238 pounds over a long 6’4” frame. He weighs just a pound more than Steelers first round pick, Ryan Shazier, but is three inches taller than the Ohio State standout. Strength, leverage, and disengagement could be an issue.
So what? he is an athlete. There are plenty of those. Every year player after player with blazing speed, insane strength, and hardwood leaping ability get passed over in the draft and to make the fifty-three. Jones is starting to make a case in a place other than the track—the field.
In addition to turning heads during training camp practices, Jones shined last Saturday night in the Steelers’ game against the New York Giants. The linebacker wearing number 34—a number typically for defensive backs and running back, or linebackers not expected to make the teams—recovered two fumbles, and had the wherewithal to scoop and score on one of them.
Jones was in the right place at the right time, a trait that can make or break a career. Coaches like players who always manage to be around the ball. On his second fumble recovery, Jones grabbed a batted backwards pass and took it to the house. Many of the players had stopped pursuing the play once the ball was batted, as they assumed it was an incomplete pass. Jones, however, not having heard a whistle, went full speed ahead and accounted for the Steelers’ only touchdown.
The play showed great presence of mind for the rookie. His first fumble recovery came after he showed great speed to get down the field in punt coverage and fell on a muffed punt.
Jones’ display on Saturday was impressive, but other than the two fumble recoveries he registered just a single tackle. Other linebackers that are no locks to make the roster also made an impact.
Jordan Zumwalt finished with five total tackles in only 25 snaps and Dan Molls lead the team with nine total tackles. The Steelers have to be happy with some of the depth that they have at linebacker.
That depth will force some tough decisions when it comes to the final fifty-three players that make the Steelers’ roster. Jones biggest hurdle is that the Steelers have some serious players at the linebacker spot.
Lawrence Timmons, Jason Worilds, Jarvis Jones, Ryan Shazier, Sean Spence, and Vince Williams are all locks to make the roster. After that, Arthur Moats and Terrence Garvin are likely candidates—Garvin helps himself with special teams play and inside-outside position flexibility. That means Vic So’oto, Chris Carter, Dan Molls, Jordan Zumwalt, and Howard Jones are in for a tight battle.
Really, this is a good problem to have. I am pulling for Jones as the guy didn’t even play linebacker until college. He is a raw and potential-filled prospect that has shown he can already make an impact. If his success in practices and in preseason games continues, he will make a strong case for himself—and for a new jersey number.