Share This Page

Steelers notebook: Rookie linebacker Jones displays big-play capability

| Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014, 8:09 p.m.

Howard Jones — many probably didn't know the name until Saturday night — passed his first NFL test by recovering two fumbles and returning one for a 28-yard touchdown when everyone else had given up on the play.

Jones, an undrafted rookie free agent linebacker from Shepherd who earned an invite to the NFL Combine last winter, pushed his way into the 53-man roster competition by making the kind of plays the Steelers lacked so often in 2012 and 2013 — takeaways.

Jones, 24, is relatively old for a rookie because he didn't qualify academically to play at Virginia or Virginia Tech coming out of high school in Woodbridge, Va.

He ended up at Shepherd, where he was a finalist for Division II Defensive Player of the Year. He was expected to go in the late rounds of the draft, but he was not selected.

Splitting carries?

As soon as Le'Veon Bell had gains of 9 and 8 yards on the Steelers' first drive, LeGarrette Blount replaced him. Is this how the Steelers might use the power-running Blount — to supplement Bell during a drive, rather than playing him every third series or so?

“I don't necessarily know how they're going to (split up playing time), but it will be something of that nature, I'm assuming,” Blount said. “Ain't nobody going to sign me to sit me.”

The Steelers signed Blount to a $3.9 million, two-year deal after never finding an effective backup to Bell last season or an effective running game at all in 2012.

McCullers makes mark

It's hard to miss Steelers rookie nose tackle Daniel McCullers, who is 6-foot-7 and nearly 360 pounds. It also was hard to miss how much he played in his first preseason game. He estimated it was more than 20 plays.

Some players believe the Steelers badly missed Casey Hampton's size and strength in the middle last season. Despite being a sixth-round pick, McCullers is an intriguing prospect.

“It was my first NFL game, and it was a great experience,” McCullers said. “I thought we did good overall, myself included. … I'm going to continue to work and get into great condition.”

Not worried

The Steelers are 0-5 in the preseason since 2012. Maybe the games don't count, but some players said last year the winless preseason might inadvertently have carried over into the 0-4 start of the season.

Mike Tomlin won't change how he manages his players in exhibition games just to get a victory. But he said the Steelers do care about winning in August.

“I'm less concerned about style points and more concerned about the bottom line,” he said. “My emphasis in that regard was geared toward winning.”

The Steelers went 4-1 in Tomlin's first preseason with the team (2007). They went 3-1 each of next five preseasons before going 0-4 in 2013.

No touchdowns

The Steelers offense lacked precision. Ben Roethlisberger, in only one series, Bruce Gradkowski and Landry Jones all failed to produce a touchdown on offense. The Steelers were 2 for 14 on third down.

Another big play

Maybe the Steelers should keep repeating, “It was only a preseason game.”

But Rashad Jennings' 73-yard touchdown run through the middle of the Steelers' defense was a flashback to 2013, when the Steelers allowed 11 plays of 50 yards or more.

“We're going to have runs that break out every now and then,” Tomlin said. “We have to get it on the ground in the secondary. Sometimes those things break free, but they've got to be 8-, 10-, 12-yard runs, not (73-yard) runs. … When these things do occur, we (need) to do a good job trying to minimize the explosion play.”

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

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.