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Kovacevic: Get Jarvis back on the field

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Steelers' Jarvis Jones plays against the Raiders Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013, at Coliseum.

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By Dejan Kovacevic
Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013, 11:00 p.m.

Here's hoping Jarvis Jones fails miserably Sunday in Foxborough. Here's hoping he falls flat on his face.

Because then, at least, he'll play.

Because then, at least, the Steelers' first-round, franchise-caliber outside linebacker won't be buried on the sideline when he could be — should be — facing the first-place Patriots, the future Hall of Famer Tom Brady and, you know, getting better.

As it is, that won't be the case. Jones won't play much, if at all, after being demoted to second-string behind Jason Worilds. And, as a result, he won't get better.

“I feel like the coaches are doing a good job making the best decisions for the team,” Jones was saying Wednesday on the South Side. “I don't feel any different.”

But wouldn't he learn more by playing than not playing?

“Uh, yeah,” he replied through a small smile. “But you've got to take a different view of things. I think we do a great job of film study. I think we've got a lot of guys, with my teammates and coaching staff, who are ready to help me. So ... I've got ways to learn.”

Way to handle that one, rookie.

I know Jones was terrible Sunday in Oakland. I know he couldn't keep outside contain on Terrelle Pryor, couldn't keep up with pass coverage, couldn't mount any real pressure much less collect his first NFL sack. If he were being graded, he'd get maybe a D-minus.

And so what?

For this team, at 2-5 and heading nowhere, at a pivoting point like no other in a decade or more, this kid needs to play. He needs to learn. He needs to get better. He needs a meaningful stretch in which to get comfortable after being hampered by a preseason chest injury and, more recently, the concussion.

Worilds is a fourth-year guy, he's blown his shot at replacing James Harrison, and he won't even be around next season. He's an unrestricted free agent, and there's no chance the cap-constrained Steelers will keep a third outside linebacker at open-market rates.

So what's the point?

I asked Mike Tomlin at his Tuesday news conference if he'd weigh the future in terms of getting Jones back out there right away, or if it's just about Sunday's game.

“Jarvis has got to play better from an assignment standpoint,” the coach came back. “If he's capable of showing that, he'll be given an opportunity to contribute now. I think that's where our mentality is and where it should be at this juncture.”

The “now” emphasis was Tomlin's, and it's neither new nor surprising.

I can respect his call to an extent. Fact is, if the Steelers somehow pull one out against the Patriots, they've got a whole lot of Browns, Bills and Baltimore up next. It's not inconceivable they could stay on life support.

But is that worth stunting Jones, the player Tomlin and Kevin Colbert were calling one of the handful of “special” players in his draft class?

Or any other youngster on this roster?

Sorry, but the concept of actual contention burned up Sunday in Pryor's vapor trails. The shifting of priorities should be happening now. The Steelers could be — should be — working simultaneously to win Sunday's game and to get the best out of this entire draft class that had everyone glowing not so long ago.

Second-rounder Le'Veon Bell is the No. 1 running back, which is wonderful.

But third-round wide receiver Markus Wheaton was barely getting onto the field before breaking a finger.

And what of fourth-round safety Shamarko Thomas?

He is seeing a decent amount of time in Dick LeBeau's dime and “quarter” formations that go heavy on defensive backs and allow Troy Polamalu to hover near the line. In effect, Thomas has covered Polamalu's old spot.

But why not more?

Ryan Clark, the other veteran safety, is 34, is having a miserable season and, like Worilds, will become an unrestricted free agent. There's nothing left for him to see, maybe nothing he can do to salvage the Steelers' season. In contrast, imagine the jump-start Thomas would get on his career by facing the likes of Brady, Joe Flacco and Aaron Rodgers.

Yeah, I know. It's all about Sunday's game, right?

Must explain why LaMarr Woodley, author of zero tackles and zero assists in Oakland, will line up as the other outside linebacker in Foxborough.

Let the kid watch and learn.

Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @Dejan_Kovacevic.

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