The Pittsburgh Steelers defense is predicated on the notion that it can win more matchups than lose from their outside pass rushers. In a 3-4 defense, that means those outside linebackers have to be great. They need an explosive first step, ability to turn the corner and an innate sense for getting to the quarterback. Historically this team has had some exceptional rush outside linebackers. But as is today’s NFL, turnover happens, and so going into the 2013 NFL draft, adding to this group was a must.
So with the 17th pick in the first round, the Steelers selected hybrid defensive end/linebacker Jarvis Jones. Jones was one of the most productive players in all of college football last year. The type of player other teams had to game plan for, and in many cases, had no answer. He was regarded by many as the best defensive player in the entire draft before concerns over a spinal condition and a poor 40-time started to spook teams.
But the Steelers’ staff are smart. They decided to sit and wait. There were other rush outside linebackers who were taken ahead of Jones that were getting lots of fanfare and the Steelers could have been tempted to go up and get one of them. But instead, they showed patience and restraint. When Jones was still there, they snatched him up.
Then they took Jones to play. But will he? The right outside linebacker spot is locked up with LaMarr Woodley. Granted, Woodley didn’t have a great 2012. But as the incumbent, he’s going to be out there for the bulk of the snaps. The other side is still up in the air. Linebacker James Harrison left via free agency, leaving the only veteran on the roster with any playing time as Jason Worilds. Worilds has 10 career starts and 10 career sacks in three seasons. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but for an attacking 3-4 defense a rotation of players at outside linebacker is a must, so whether it’s as a starter or backup, Worilds is going to be in the mix.
Typically the Steelers don’t start rookies unless it’s a matter of necessity and that could very well be the case this year. World out of OTA’s is Jones is dealing with a slight hamstring pull. This isn’t surprising and something most teams prepare for. Jones is a quick-twitch type of athlete and has been training like it’s inseason since last July with very little break. Typically after the regular season ends, these young men can take some time off to rest up before Spring ball, then rest up again to prepare for Fall ball. Jones has had no real layoff with pre-draft workouts straight after the end of the season, right to rookie camps and now into OTAs.
This likely means that Jones is going to have an uphill climb to earn that left outside linebacker spot outright. That’s not to say he won’t, but it will be tantamount that he stay healthy just as much as he play well in order to do it. The preseason is going to be very interesting as it’s essentially two linebackers playing for one spot. If Jones can flash that disruptive play, he displayed in college he’ll certainly endear himself to Steelers fans and coaches and help him win that spot.