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Steelers' rookie linebacker Jones redeems himself in finale

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Steelers' Jarvis Jones tackles the Browns' Josh Cooper in the first quarter Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, at Heinz Field.

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Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, 10:45 p.m.
 

For a first-round pick, you probably shouldn't be able to count Jarvis Jones' significant plays on one hand.

However …

• A hit on Titans running back Chris Johnson in the season opener.

• Pressuring Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith into a throwing an interception four games later.

• His first and only sack of the season against the Bills in Week 9.

• Batting down a 2-point conversion attempt by Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton late in a Week 14 game.

Jones might have caused his biggest stir when he was benched after a Week 8 game in Oakland that allowed Jason Worilds back into the starting lineup — until Sunday, that is.

With LaMarr Woodley on injured reserve and Worilds out with an abdominal injury, the Steelers turned to Jones on Sunday against the Browns.

Jones had a career-high nine tackles and forced Browns quarterback Jason Campbell into an interception.

He finally showed why the Steelers drafted him 17th overall in last spring.

“I think I played well,” Jones said. “I think I ran around and made some plays today, but I still have a lot to work toward as far as building strength and speed, technique — become a student of the game.”

Jones made a splash early against the Browns. He pulled down Josh Cooper for a 2-yard loss on the second play of the game, then pressured Campbell into an incompletion on the next play.

During the next series, Jones made two of the first four tackles.

“He played great,” linebacker Lawrence Timmons said. “For a young guy to come in at this stage of the NFL and do what he did as a rookie, speaks volumes. It shows you that he has a lot of potential and growth. When you think about it, we don't start rookies … ever. I can't wait to see him go out there and grow more.”

It is highly unusual for the Steelers to start a rookie at any position under defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. Because of the Steelers' lack of experience and injuries at linebacker, Jones was thrust into the starting lineup by Week 2.

“It is tough to come into this league as a rookie and be a great player, especially as complicated as the systems are,” defensive end Brett Keisel said. “When you are out there thinking and not reacting, it slows you down.”

Jones found that out against Oakland. He didn't start that game, but when he got his chance, his undisciplined play forced the Steelers to go with Worilds for the majority of the second half. The next week, it was official: Jones was benched.

“(Linebackers coach Keith) Butler is just trying to make me more disciplined, more technically sound,” Jones said. “Preparation has been great, and it is transferring over the field. You have to continue to do it.

“I knew coming in that nothing is given in this league. You have to work for it and continue to chop wood, and that's what I am going to do. I have all the confidence in the world in myself and my coaches and teammates. I understand the things I need to work on.”

At 6-foot-2, 245 pounds, Jones is undersized for what the Steelers are looking for in an outside linebacker.

“Look at me: I need to get stronger, I need to get faster and I need to become a better student of the game,” Jones said.

Jones finished the regular season with 14 games played, eight starts, 42 tackles and one sack.

“From Day 1, Jarvis got better,” defensive end Cameron Heyward said. “It shows that he wants to be great. He is not a finished product, but he has the right mindset. I look forward to seeing what Jarvis can do in the future.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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