Steelers linebacker Jones vows to improve in 2nd NFL season
Steelers outside linebacker Jarvis Jones knows a statistics-thin rookie season raised doubts about how good — or how disappointing — an NFL pass rusher he will be.
The doubters aren't going away, at least for now.
“He can hunt — he can find that ball and hunt — but I don't see him as an elite pass rusher in today's NFL because he doesn't have that burst that you've got to have,” NFL Network analyst Jamie Dukes said. “He's a 3-4 edge rusher who doesn't have that super burst.”
Despite not having superlative speed — he ran a 4.9 40 on a chilly Georgia pro day last year — or significant stats in 2013 (only one sack), Jones was given a vote of confidence when the Steelers released former Pro Bowl linebacker LaMarr Woodley two months ago.
With Woodley now with the Raiders, Jones and Jason Worilds look to be locked in as the outside linebacker starters, barring injury.
After an intense offseason working out and studying the defense, and some strong practices to date, Jones thinks the Steelers will like what they see from him this season.
Mostly, they won't see what they saw last season.
“Things have slowed down for me. … Last year I was thinking too much, I wasn't able to react, play and do the things I like to do,” Jones said Thursday as the Steelers wrapped up the second of their four weeks of offseason practices.
“I'm more of a guy that moves and plays off instincts. Last year, I wasn't able to do that. I really didn't know what was going on around me as far as, if I'm rushing outside, I can't go inside the tackle because I've got a blitz coming up the middle. I wasn't able to be myself. I was limited to a lot of things.”
As Jones said, it's called “being a rookie.”
Linebackers coach Keith Butler agrees.
“He pretty much didn't know where to line up last year,” Butler said. “If somebody wasn't there to help him and tell him what he was supposed to be doing, he was playing half a second slow. The great thing about playing in this defense is that it is tough to play in your first year, but the second year everything slows down.”
The Steelers also brought in someone else to help — former Pro Bowl linebacker Joey Porter, who was hired as a defensive assistant in part so he could mentor Jones.
“He and Jarvis are probably the same guy, their style of play,” Butler said.
Jones is stronger, Butler said, although he remains listed at 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds.
“I see my game changing, as far as being in the weight room and grinding in there — I see it when I'm out here on the field,” Jones said. “It's getting better.”
Butler also was encouraged by Jones' play late in the season; Jones had 10 quarterback hurries in the final three games and 10 tackles in the final two games, including eight against the Browns. Overall, Jones' 25 QB hurries led the team.
“I didn't make as many plays as I should have, and they were out there,” Jones said. “But that's last year, and I'm looking at a totally different year.
“I'm just a whole lot better than I was last year.”