Steelers want more production from 2013 rookie class

| Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013, 10:39 p.m.

Jarvis Jones calls it “challenging,” and it's a word every member of the Steelers' much-anticipated rookie class could use to describe his first NFL half-season.

Challenging, long and frustrating.

It's November, when colleges are beginning to wind down their seasons. But the NFL is only winding up with two more full months left to play — a period during which this class's success or failure will be judged.

“I was just saying, ‘Man, I don't even know what week it is,' ” Jones said Thursday. “I just know they're going by fast now. It (playing in the NFL) is more mentally challenging than physically.”

“It's a l-o-n-g season,” safety Shamarko Thomas said. “What we can't do is hit that rookie wall; that's the big thing.”

As expected, the Steelers' rookies are playing much more than most of the franchise's first-year classes. In some seasons, like 2008, rookies barely got on the field.

But as the 2-5 record suggests, it's been a long, uphill climb for a rookie class that has yet to distinguish itself, find an identity, stay healthy or play up to its talent level.

No doubt the Steelers expected Jones, an elite college pass rusher, to have his first sack by now. For Le'Veon Bell to have his first 100-yard game and, certainly, to have more than 208 yards rushing. For Thomas to have his first interception, for Markus Wheaton to have far more than three receptions.

Injuries have badly hurt, too. Bell missed the first three games with a midfoot sprain. Jones' early-season progression was set back by a concussion. Wheaton sat out the last three games with a broken little finger that required four surgically implanted screws to secure. And seventh-round pick Nick Williams (knee) is out for the season.

For the Steelers' Class of 2013, it's been a lesson in patience and how to deal with setbacks and disappointments.

“We think our rookie class is strong, but we've got a lot to prove,” Thomas said. “We definitely talk to each other. We're a good, tight-knit group, and we talk about our rookie class and how strong we are. How hard we've got to work to be like these veterans like Heath Miller and (Ben) Roethlisberger and all the veterans who've been together and won Super Bowls.”

Earlier this season, those veterans sent a message to the rookies by taking away their locker-room gaming privileges, suggesting they needed to earn the right to enjoy them.

Coach Mike Tomlin later took something even more important away from Jones: his starting job. Tomlin explained Jones must pay more attention to detail.

Despite Jones' demotion, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is satisfied with his progress, plus that of inside linebacker Vince Williams, who, with Bell, is starting.

“I don't think Jarvis is further ahead or behind where James Harrison was, Jason Worilds was or LaMarr Woodley was,” LeBeau said. “I think Jarvis is going to be fine. … Vince is getting better every week, and that's what we're looking for from both of those young guys.”

Even if the Steelers were looking for a lot more from what was expected to be one of the best rookie groups in their history.

“It's been kind of difficult,” Vince Williams said.

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

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