Kovacevic: Steelers look to reclaim edge
By Dejan Kovacevic
Published: Friday, April 26, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Brief and to the Point ...
When in doubt, revert to the foundation.
These Steelers are a franchise that lost more than eight games in 2012. They lost, to a certain extent, their identity.
Their defensive identity, which around here is one and the same.
Sure, the defense was ranked No. 1 in the NFL by various measures of points and yards. And, yeah, they might have finished with a far better record with a catch here, a field goal there. But that never should have — never could have — disguised the real issue.
No one feared them anymore.
They didn't get to the backfield, didn't take the ball, didn't even broach the same ZIP code as the quarterback never mind getting him to the ground, a trait that's still the most intimidating weapon in any NFL team's arsenal.
So good for Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert not only for recognizing that but also for following through: With the 17th overall pick in the NFL Draft on Thursday night, the Steelers chose Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, a classic edge rusher.
Jones might not ever match the hype — Tomlin and Colbert both called him one of the six to eight “special players” they'd designated in this class — but he's the right player at the right time.
Right temperament, too.
I loved this response when I asked Tomlin if Jones fits the Steelers' staple personality ...
“He plays the game with a certain disposition, with a certain demeanor that we value,” the coach replied with a trace of a smile. “If he's making a tackle or fronting a block, he's doing it in a manner which we appreciate. He'll fit in with our group.”
Ha! Well, maybe not, given what we saw last season with an aging James Harrison — the player Jones will replace — and an inexcusably ineffective LaMarr Woodley coming off those edges.
But Jones could, if he fills the bill, help bring that trait back to Tomlin's group.
Jones is, for lack of a better Mel Kiper-ism to describe him, a QB-busting, ballhawk of a beast. He's 6-foot-2, 245 pounds, and his style is all seek-and-destroy. In 34 games at Georgia, he recorded 28 sacks, 88 QB pressures, 45 tackles for a loss, five broken-up passes and, without a doubt, more than his fair share of trembling legs on the opponents' line.
Opponents marked the menacing figure wearing No. 29 and draped in those Bob Marley braids. They schemed for him. Avoided him. Feared him.
Remember what that used to look like?
When Jones once piled up 13 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, an interception and a pass breakup against Missouri, another prominent Georgian surnamed Jones — Chipper — tweeted: “Jarvis Jones is a monster!”
Right. A scary monster.
Make no mistake: That's what the Steelers wanted here.
That also explains why both the team and the athlete locked in on each other more than a month ago.
"I just felt like I connected with Coach Tomlin right away,” Jones recalled through a conference call of his Georgia Pro Day meeting March 21. “Coach told me he liked the way I played, liked my energy. I know they needed outside linebackers and ... it's just defense, man. It's the Steel Curtain. It's Pittsburgh. I'm just so happy to be part of this organization.”
I'll be happy if the Steelers can use these coming rounds to address glaring needs at running back — hey, Alabama's Eddie Lacy is still out there — wide receiver, safety and other spots.
This is a perfectly fitting start.
• Friday Q: Thursday brought the Steelers' first pick, and Saturday will bring the last. Name the player who, beyond any doubt, rates as the best final draft pick in franchise history.
Hint: He won two Super Bowls.
• What exactly is USA Hockey waiting for in naming Ray Shero the general manager of the Olympic team for Sochi?
Brian Burke held that job for the Vancouver Games and fashioned an impressive silver medalist there, but he's been out of work and out of the loop since the Maple Leafs fired him at the start of this NHL season.
All Shero's done in the interim is evaluate talent — and brazenly burglarize it — from the Stars, the Hurricanes and pretty much anyone else dumb enough to still take his calls.
• The main meme at Harrison's introductory news conference in Cincinnati this week was about leadership. Marvin Lewis talked about it, and Harrison mentioned it several times.
“Leadership is leading by example,” Harrison said. “Anybody can talk.”
They sure can.
In November, I canvassed more than a dozen of the Steelers' players in the locker room to ask who were the team leaders, and I got more than a dozen names in return. Not one mention of Harrison.
• Amazing figure about the Pirates' richly commendable, gutsy 12-4 tear: They've outscored opponents by just 75-60.
The 13-9 overall record comes with a plus-7 run differential.
Even the most advanced of advanced baseball metrics still respect simple run differential as a true indicator of a team's strength, but it doesn't always apply: The 2012 Orioles defied it all summer long and wound up 93-69 despite the same plus-7 run differential.
• You won't find five scouts across Major League Baseball who believe Travis Snider is anything more than a fourth outfielder. And they might be right. But for now, Snider has locked in that often painfully long stroke and made solid contact en route to a .309 average, .387 on-base percentage and seven doubles.
• Friday Answer: Brett Keisel was the Steelers' second pick of the seventh round, 242nd overall, class of 2002. Back then, of course, the scruffy-faced kid out of BYU was merely Da Goatee.
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