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Steelers' Tomlin keeps expections in check for first-year players

| Saturday, May 4, 2013, 11:42 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Linebacker Jarvis Jones, the Steelers' first-round pick, works out at rookie camp Friday, May 3, 2013 on the South Side.

Coach Mike Tomlin's first impression of what might be the Steelers' most heavily counted-upon rookie class in years is no different from that of any other rookie class in any other year.

Only a week after being drafted, these guys aren't nearly ready to be NFL players.

They're only beginning to learn a playbook and terminology that seem foreign to many. They're only beginning to learn what it's like to play at a level where everyone is very good and easily exploitable weaknesses are very few.

“We're just laying a foundation for their careers,” Tomlin said. “It's just familiarizing yourself with the young men, how they learn and how they move, areas in which they may be deficient.”

So, while there is on-field work at the three-day rookie minicamp that winds up Sunday, it is the classroom instruction that is most important on the first weekend these players can officially call themselves professionals.

“I think that's the first thing these guys need to know about professional football: They have no chance of being what they desire to be unless they are in the best conditioning of their life,” Tomlin said. “That's been a point of emphasis. ... Being able to take things they learn in the classroom and make it happen on the field is another element they'd better learn. There's some urgency involved.”

If only because in two weeks, it won't just be rookies on the South Side practice fields but the veterans as 10 days of offseason practice begin on May 21, followed by a three-day minicamp June 11-13.

That's when first-round draft pick Jarvis Jones will begin to compete with holdover Jason Worilds for the chance to succeed James Harrison at outside linebacker — probably the most-watched positional battle of the offseason.

The Steelers targeted Jones early on during their predraft player analysis, and the former Georgia star wound up falling to them at No. 17. He understands they are counting on big things from him, but those can't be accomplishment until the detail work — the little things — is done.

“That's a long way from now,” Jones said of the Sept. 8 season opener against Tennessee. “The most important thing for me is to come out here, try to get in the best shape I can be, learn the system and do what the coaches ask me to do. They're going to make that decision (about starting).”

Tomlin said no decision has been made about the status of inside linebacker Sean Spence, who is healing from a serious knee injury that involved nerve damage and sidelined him all of last season.

Linebackers coach Keith Butler said a week ago that it would take a miracle for Spence to play this season, but Tomlin won't go that far.

“My opinion differs, but I think he's going to have a full recovery,” Tomlin said.

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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