Saturday, May 4, 2013

Will Jarvis Jones Start This Season For The Steelers?

"I think it's a daunting task for rookies to start in any system and play and perform well," Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said when speaking of first-round draft pick, outside linebacker Jarvis Jones. "Obviously it is difficult when you have established veteran players like we have with a lot of continuity. We are not going to close the door on him or anyone else on earning an opportunity, and that is what this is about -- people taking advantage of opportunities. So he'll be given that."

When linebackers coach Kevin Butler first spoke to Sean Spence at the 2012 NFL combine, he told him that “no rookie linebacker comes in and starts. They work their way in on special teams.” Butler reiterated that recently when speaking of Jones.

"He's been very productive. He's going to come in and compete, but he's not going to be given the position," Butler said.

Mainly because of defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's complex system, it is true that linebackers as a rule don't start as a rookie for the Blitzburgh Steelers. But both Tomlin and Butler say that Jones will be given the opportunity to compete, which is the way it should be. If the player is ready, play him. As a for instance, it was apparent that LaMarr Woodley should've started from about midseason on in his rookie year of 2007.

That season, Woodley played in 13 games, mainly on special teams, with zero starts. Still, he managed to collect 14 solo tackles, four sacks and a forced fumble. The linebacker ahead of him at the time was Clark Haggans. In over three times as many snaps, Haggans had 15 solo tackles (36 total), four sacks and no forced fumbles. So the precedent could be said to have been set that season. A precedent that would seem to be in Jones' favor.

Much has been spoken and written on this subject, whether or not Jones should start. The problem is that, as Butler further said, there's someone who might have something to say about that.

"Jason Worilds is here," Butler reaffirmed. "He's the next guy up since [James Harrison] has left, and I expect Jason to be better than he ever has been."

"Better than he ever has been" is a singular and, at the same time, bold statement. As was pointed out in a previous article where we quoted Steelers beat writer Mark Kaboly, Worilds has "yet to have a true and full offseason (2010 rookie year, 2011 lockout, 2012 wrist injury)." And if we take that and run with it, it could be sound reason for not considering Butler's statement as prognostication. Reason that Kaboly backed up with another fact.

"Steelers LB Jason Worilds played 999 snaps in 3 seasons or equivalent of one full season and has 10 career sacks," Kaboly said. And as we said when we first quoted his words, "this extrapolation doesn't automatically mean that he'll produce that way next season, but it's definitely a point in the right direction."

So what does this mean for all parties involved? Can Worilds play the right side as effectively as he does the left side? If Woodley redoubles his efforts and truly dedicates himself this offseason in order to return to the form of a few years ago, that keeps Worilds on the right side. It also keeps this a two-man race. Or would Jones would simply back up both sides? Regardless, the one who has the greatest say as to whether or not Jones steps in this season is Jones.

As far as an heir apparent, Jones is the anti-Harrison. Where Harrison was the Silverback - so powerful and disruptive, Jones is the Black Panther - so sleek and sudden. Where Harrison was the massive Deebo from the movie Friday, Jones is the leaner and more angular (though not as slightly built) Williams from Enter The Dragon.

As Kaboly wrote in his minicamp observations blog, he admits that he's "used to seeing mammoths like LaMarr Woodley and Ziggy Hood, so that’s to be expected. But still, first-round pick Jarvis Jones looked tremendously undersized especially compared to Woodley and Jason Worilds."

That and the adjustment he'll need to make to the size and speed of the NFL are what will keep him from making a major impact this season. Just as senior analyst Gil Brandt said of him, "I don't think he can be a 3-4 'backer that can drop into space and be effective," Brandt said. "When you see him come from one side and try to chase down a play, he doesn't have that speed that you really need to have to play that position when he's chasing a guy." -

Add to that, he was blocked by tight ends in college as often as he was by tackles. So, like Brandt also said further, at this point he's "a one-position player...a guy that's going to play with his hand on the ground..." The Steelers already had that. His name is Adrian Robinson.

Bottom line, to achieve and maintain the level of linebacker and overall defensive excellence they've so long been known for requires a certain level of intelligence, versatility, aptitude and, finally, communication. Therefore, all four linebackers must be able to peel and scrape, to understand their assignments in the base defenses and in the various underneath coverages in LeBeau's zone-blitzes.

Right now, all Jones has is the ability to simply pin his ears back and rush the passer or get to the running back. So while he may have given the chance to push for the starting position, he doesn't yet possess what will be needed to usurp it.