Saturday, July 6, 2013

Will Jarvis Jones, Other Young Linebackers Add To Steelers Legacy?

Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, Andy Russell, Loren Teows, Robin Cole, Mike Merriweather, David Little, Bryan Hinkle, Greg Lloyd, Hardy Nickerson, Levon Kirkland, Joey Porter, Earl Holmes, James Farrior, James Harrison... Some underrated, some under appreciated, but the list goes on.

Few NFL teams can say they have had as much talent at one position as the Pittsburgh Steelers have had at linebacker for the past forty-plus years. Such a legacy and tradition, therefore, dictates that the Steelers, aka "Linebacker, Inc.", have to be considered the resident experts on the position.

Playing in the 4-3 defensive alignment until 1982, the Steelers then switched to the 3-4 and have been running it ever since. Looking to continue that legacy are several young linebackers on the offseason roster who are looking to create their own by adding their names to that list.

Along with those names, though, come question marks as well. First round draft pick Jarvis Jones signed a four-year, $8.705 million contract with $4.71 million in bonuses. Jones’ $8.705 is guaranteed. His success isn't. While Jones, who recently stated that he thought he was going to be drafted by the Cleveland Browns, may have had 28 sacks and an average of 22 tackles for a loss for Georgia over the last two seasons, like Steelers inside Buck linebacker Larry Foote recently said, it will be difficult for Jones to crack the starting lineup as a rookie.

“It's going to be difficult (for Jones to start immediately), especially outside,” Foote said. “There is so much technique, (knowing) where you've got to line up, inside or outside. The fortunate thing is they (Jones' Georgia Bulldogs) played a 3-4....I've seen a lot (of players) come in as rookies and not have a clue, but you can tell he's been around our type of football.”

His pragmatism was tinged with a bit of reserved optimism for the rookie. Much like the architect of the current 3-4 defense the Steelers employ.

"(Jones) has got (linebacker) instincts," Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said when commenting on turning a defensive end into an outside linebacker (think LaMarr Woodley). "You don't have to (wean) him off the end stuff."

According to Len Pasquarelli of the National Football Post, Jones might just have the chance to do what no rookie linebacker has done for LeBeau - start.

"The team has seen enough of the 17th overall pick...to privately acknowledge that he could be that rarest of commodities: a rookie who actually starts for the Steelers at the prized outside linebacker spot," Pasquarelli wrote. "There’s apparently a decent chance now that Jones can bump fourth-year veteran Jason Worilds (10 sacks in three seasons) as the heir apparent to James Harrison’s old spot on the right side."

However, one of the things Jones may find to be the most difficult part of that process and in learning the outside linebacker position in the pros is in mastering coverage instincts. And per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Mark Kaboly, he doesn't look like he is going to be there any time soon.

"Watched every practice & nothing would say he can stop run, drop into coverage or beat NFL LTs," Kaboly wrote to an unintelligent Twitter hack. "Maybe, but can't tell in spring."

Speaking of Kaboly, he reported in the Tribune-Review awhile back that the Steelers had moved Stevenson Sylvester from inside linebacker, where he has played nearly exclusively in his three years, to outside linebacker during minicamp.

This suggests two things: 1) that his versatility may directly affect his roster spot, and 2) that the coaches like what they have seen from former undrafted free agent Marshall McFadden, whom If It Ain't Steel told you to keep an eye nearly two months ago, allowing said versatility and position flexability. - http://ifitaintsteel.blogspot.com/2013/05/youth-being-infused-into-steelers.html

With second-year linebacker Sean Spence still unavailable as he recovers from his knee injury, and third-year linebacker Chris Carter largely unproductive in his opportunities, that leaves Sylvester, McFadden, Adrian Robinson and this year's sixth-round draft pick Vince Williams as the players with the best chances to fill the final three of an expected nine linebacker positions. (Not that anyone really expected Kion Wilson, Terrance Garvin, Alan Baxter or even Brian Rolle to make the team.)

Pointedly, Sylvester has displayed a greater knack for special teams, which is what will tip the scales for those last spots. In 2012, despite missing six games, Sylvester played on nearly half of the team’s special teams snaps. Carter, despite missing eight games, played on less than a quarter of the team’s special teams snaps. This, plus the position flexibility spoken of earlier, would seem to move Sylvester ahead of Carter.

McFadden has the goods and the desire, while Robinson appears to be a coach favorite at outside linebacker as position coach Keith Butler has effused about him more than once. While Williams is probably headed for the practice squad, nonetheless he's gotten the attention of his teammates.

"He looks like a smart player," said fellow Florida St. alumnus Lawrence Timmons. "He’s very gifted with his athletic ability and I’m starting to get excited to see what he’s going to do in camp." - http://tinyurl.com/l8tfzrq

We'll see indeed. They all have some degree of uphill climb ahead of them, and whether or not they will add their names to the pantheon of Steelers linebackers is still to be determined. The questions that surround them, though, will begin to be answered in Training Camp.

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TIDBITS: Speaking of Training Camp, the Steelers will report on Friday, July 27, with the first open practice being on Saturday the 28th, and will break camp on August 18, per Steelers.com.

The first practice in pads will be on Monday, July 29. All practices that are open to the public are scheduled from 3-5 p.m., except for the two night practices on Friday, August 2 at Latrobe’s Memorial Stadium at 7 p.m., and at Saint Vincent College on Wednesday, August 14, from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

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For a more personal look at first-round draft pick Jarvis Jones and his many plights that included tragedy, castigation and pain, read Jim Wexell's piece on Jones and his road to the Steelers: http://pit.scout.com/2/1297050.html