Kovacevic: Hungry for more Jarvis, please
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It might say something about the state of the Steelers that Michael Palmer, a tight end signed Friday, suited up Saturday for the preseason opener against the Giants and hardly ever stepped off the pristine Heinz Field turf. First-team offense and all.
Who needs ‘em when the entire tight end depth chart was watching in sweats?
It might say something else that, after an offseason in which Mike Tomlin pretty much tormented his incumbent running backs in challenging them, seven of the 19 snaps taken by Ben Roethlisberger ended up in the hands of newcomer LaRod Stephens-Howling to the tune of 40 nifty yards.
Who needs reps for those guys when the real plan for the first quarter had been to hand the ball to Le'Veon Bell, anyway?
And it might say something else entirely that the bulk of anticipation for this affair had been for exactly that. But that was blown up beforehand with word that Bell's sore knee would keep the buzz of camp on the sideline until at least next week.
So, who to watch if not the second-round draft pick?
Hey, first-rounder, anyone?
Jarvis Jones, dubbed by Tomlin one of the NFL Draft's “special” prospects upon being picked No. 17 overall, joined the defense for New York's third offensive series, and the timing couldn't have been much better. Eli Manning's final touch of the night was a 57-yard touchdown to Victor Cruz, a play on which three factors stood out for the home side:
1. Oh, Willie Gay.
2. Jason Worilds dropped into coverage, and Larry Foote's rush from the right side ended up with Foote shoved 10 yards beyond Manning by left tackle Will Beatty.
3. LaMarr Woodley almost got to Manning. Almost but not quite, even though Cruz had enough time to sprint open for a ball that traveled 30-plus yards in the air. Maybe by Tennessee week, Woodley will get there.
Time for someone else. And sure enough, Jones' first series found great fortune: The Giants' David Carr fumbled with not a body near him, and Jones pounced for the recovery. He leaped up with the ball, and the crowd seemed to love it almost as much as he did.
Welcome to Pittsburgh, kid.
After that … eh.
And, to his credit, he seemed to know it.
“It was fun, and I enjoyed it,” Jones was saying. “But there were some different things I left on the field I know I can work on.”
No question. No. 95 looked menacing looming over the line with that lean frame and long mane, but he also looked slow off the snap. He'd try a soft spin move to no avail rather than the all-out assault style for which he was known at Georgia. He never pressured any of New York's quarterbacks. He was beaten to the corner on an 8-yard run by Andre Brown. And the one solo tackle he recorded, while attractive at first sight on sheer athleticism with a one-armed diving snag of a tight end, resulted only from his failing to contain the outside in the first place.
Thinking too much?
“I don't know,” Jones said. “It's still football. In college, I always knew where I needed to be. There were a lot of plays out there tonight where I could see now that I didn't make … and it's a learning curve.”
One of those, as he found out in merciless ribbing from teammates on the sideline, had to do with that fumble recovery.
“I took the college route to it, that curling the ball into me,” Jones said, grinning. “They told me I should have picked it up and run. In college, we stayed down.”
The primary positive for Jones was that, in being placed on the right edge after Woodley's early exit — Worilds was shifted from right to left — a strong signal was sent that Jones will get a legit chance to unseat Worilds as the starter on that side.
That's as it should be. Worilds had a sack for a 13-yard loss but otherwise did next to nothing.
Let's be blunt: If Worilds is starting the real opener, not much is going to change.
And it had better change because there can't be much doubt after 8-8 that it'll take a lot more than a few extra Tomlinisms and jumping jacks to improve. It'll take different talent, new talent. It'll take Jones beating Worilds. It'll take Bell beating the other backs. It'll take Markus Wheaton, who had flashes of his own Saturday, beating Jerricho Cotchery at slot receiver.
“This is a great group of young men, and I think people started to see that tonight,” Ryan Clark said, with a few of those youngsters in earshot near his stall. “We think the world of what they can do, and this is just the beginning.”
Sounds about right.
Now, is there a tight end in the house?
Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Dejan_Kovacevic.
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