Steelers' top pick Jones eager for opportunity
The Steelers could have gone in any direction during the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday. Instead, their compass pointed them toward an outside linebacker who wowed them at his pro day.
Jarvis Jones didn't blow away general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin with his speed or athleticism. Instead, it was his tireless motor and passion for the game.
“When you watch him play, I don't care what he runs,” Colbert said. “He's a football player in every phase of the game, and that was what was really exciting.”
The Georgia product possesses many of the skills that enabled James Harrison and Joey Porter to excel on a defense that demands a great deal from its linebackers against the run and pass.
Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote were the Steelers' top tacklers in 2012, totaling 113 and 106, respectively. Also, Timmons added a team-best three interceptions.
“It means a lot to me, and I want to take full advantage, and I want to maximize my opportunities,” said Jones, whose history of injuries and poor pre-draft workouts jeopardized his draft status. “I'm excited because everything has fallen in place for me.
“I love to win. It's something they take really seriously around here.”
Jones, who might be asked to add weight to his 245-pound frame, was one of the best pass-rushers in college football. He lined up at defensive end and linebacker and registered a school-record 14 1⁄2 sacks last season.
“There's been a few times where he put his hand on the ground, but predominantly, he's a two-point stance player,” Tomlin said. “He also plays a little bit of rover for them, where he'll stack and play at the linebacker level and in some sub package stuff like we've done with our outside linebackers.”
Jones, one of the best defensive players in the SEC the past two seasons, will arrive at rookie orientation next weekend with lofty expectations. Already, he's being considered as a legitimate contender to replace Harrison, now with the Bengals.
There's little doubt Jones will contend for playing time. However, he expects to duel with fourth-year linebacker Jason Worilds for the starting outside linebacker job opposite LaMarr Woodley.
“I won't compare myself to anybody,” said Jones, who has spoken with defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to gauge his expectations. “I think I have a style of my own. I want to come in here and give it everything I got. I'll sacrifice everything to be great.
“I'm just coming in to do what my coaches ask me to do. I'm trying to get on (Harrison's) level but trying to make a name for myself. I want to be a good teammate.”
Worilds, though, welcomes the challenge he's likely to face when training camp begins in July at St. Vincent.
“There's always going to be competition, and that's part of the game,” Worilds said. “I've been preparing myself for whatever it takes for me to compete.”
The Steelers were sold on Jones, in part, because of his willingness to compete. Georgia outside linebacker and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham shouldered Jones with plenty of responsibility and allotted him the freedom to capitalize on his instincts and aggressiveness.
Tomlin, too, was impressed with how the 17th overall pick adjusted to the Bulldogs' defensive scheme after spending a year at Southern Cal.
“He's been through a lot,” Tomlin said. “He's been to the West Coast and back. He's dealt with an injury that could've potentially put his career in question.
“Kevin and I remarked at his pro day that he moved around then like a veteran player. He's going to be a rookie, and he'll go through the same thing rookies go through.”
Jones is looking forward to the challenge.
“I think I just made a great fit with the Pittsburgh Steelers,” Jones said. “I'm just trying to stay on the positives and enjoy it and get to work.”
The work begins for Jones at rookie minicamp and orientation. The heavy lifting begins at training camp.