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Steelers thrilled to select Georgia LB Jones in 1st round

| Thursday, April 25, 2013, 10:24 p.m.

On a night in which some of the bigger names fell far and fell fast, Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones was certain he wouldn't slide past the Steelers and the 17th pick.

He was right. And rarely have the Steelers given off such confidence they made the right pick.

Jones, identified beforehand by general manager Kevin Colbert as one of the six to eight special players available in the draft, quickly was grabbed by the Steelers on Thursday night with their first pick in the seven-round draft — only two months after they thought he couldn't possibly be available.

“We didn't talk to him at the (NFL Scouting) Combine because we didn't think we had a chance,” Colbert said after what might have been one of the Steelers' easiest first-round picks in years. “But after he ran a 4.9 (40-yard dash) at the combine, I was happy. The first thing I did was set up a (personal) visit with his agent because I knew then we had a chance.”

The nation's leading pass rusher last season, Jones fills an immediate need — for an outside linebacker — in a draft in which the Steelers have multiple pressing needs, including those for a running back and wide receiver. He is the heir apparent to five-time Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison, who was released after he and the team couldn't agree on a renegotiated contract. He since has signed with the Bengals.

Jones will compete with Jason Worilds to determine who starts outside along with LaMarr Woodley.

“James Harrison is a beast. I have a lot of work to do to get to James Harrison,” Jones said. “The guy is powerful and has speed. … I love the way he plays. I think we both play relentless, and we both are passionate about this game. We are ball hogs and impact players.”

Jones had 14 12 sacks, 24 12 tackles for loss and seven forced fumbles last season, all major-college highs. He also had 85 tackles and was a finalist for five different defensive player of the year awards.

“He was off-the-charts impressive,” Colbert said. “He's a great player. He was productive at the major college level, in fact dominant. He can run, chase the ball and, most important, get after the passer. He was a highly productive pass rusher in one of the best conferences in the country. It's really just a great honor to have this kid join our team.”

The 6-foot-2, 245-pounder is a superb edge rusher who overcame a bout of spinal stenosis — a narrowing of the spinal canal — early in his career with Southern Cal before transferring to Georgia.

He played two seasons there without incident, and he was cleared by doctors at the combine and wasn't required to return for retesting a few days before the draft.

Steelers doctors also examined him.

“There (were) absolutely no problems,” Colbert said. “We're comfortable with his medical status.”

It has appeared for several weeks that Jones might be available when the Steelers selected, if only because of his 40 time. He is a natural 3-4 linebacker, one reason he became confident after talking with coach Mike Tomlin that the Steelers would pick him if he were available.

“It was a fun and easy evaluation,” Tomlin said. “When you look at the outside linebackers in the 3-4 defenses, generally there is some projection and so forth in the evaluation. This was an easy evaluation. He plays in a very similar scheme. He excelled in what they asked him to do, and he will be asked to do similar things here.”

Jones wound up being chosen ahead of players such as West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith and Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, both of whom were considered to be top-10 players.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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