Steelers breaking in top pick Jones slowly
Jarvis Jones must prove it to LaMarr Woodley, Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons before he can establish it with Keith Butler.
Prove he can read and react fast enough to play in one of the NFL's most complicated defenses. Prove he knows the defense's intricacies. Prove that he's not, as coach Mike Tomlin might say, a one-trick pony.
If Jones is to start as a rookie in a defense that is searching for a replacement for All-Pro outside linebacker James Harrison, he must show his teammates that he indeed knows and understands the defense they've mastered.
That's something even Woodley couldn't achieve as a rookie.
“It's not fair to the rest of the guys to have him out on the field,” Butler, the Steelers' linebackers coach, said Wednesday. “He knows that. Before he plays, he's got to know what he's doing.”
As soon as the Steelers drafted Jones with the No. 17 pick, the anticipation was that he would start immediately. He was the top pass rusher in college football last season with 14 1⁄2 sacks at Georgia, and his style and demeanor seem perfect for a pressure-based defense.
“In college, he kind of free lanced a little bit, and we're a little more disciplined in what we ask them to do and the techniques we ask them to use in the passing game,” Butler said. “All he did (at Georgia) was drop straight back and look at the quarterback. We're asking him to do a lot of different things in terms of pass coverage, and that's not one of them. We've got to get him out of that habit, and he's willing to get out of that habit.”
For now, the Steelers are working Jones only at right outside linebacker where Harrison played — and where Jones is competing with Jason Worilds, a 2010 second-round pick who has been mostly a situational pass rusher.
“It's like trying to teach algebra to basic math,” safety Troy Polamalu said. “You've got to almost erase their career and what they've learned to this point and start anew with this defense.”
Butler isn't quite starting anew at linebacker, not with Woodley, Foote and Timmons returning. But he has a challenge in trying to get Woodley back to his dozen-sacks-a-season from a couple years ago. He had only four last season.
Woodley changed his offseason training regimen, and Butler likes what he sees. Or, more precisely, what he doesn't see: as much Woodley as before.
Woodley won't say what he weighs.
“Whatever he did, it appears to be right,” Butler said. “The biggest thing is we've got to keep him on the field. LaMarr is a prideful man. He understands he has to play at a certain level to fulfill his contract, you might say. He's working on it.”