Steelers LBs Jones, Shazier vow to grow from tough seasons

| Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015, 10:21 p.m.

A knee injury followed by an ankle sprain quickly turned into a disappointing season for Ryan Shazier.

A dislocated wrist that caused a two-month stint on the sidelines made Jarvis Jones' once promising season a wasted year.

And it could be the best thing that ever happened.

The Steelers spent back-to-back first-round picks on linebackers for the first time in franchise history when they took Jones with the 17th pick in the 2013 draft and Shazier with the 15th pick the following year with the hopes of pumping life into a dying defense.

Jones was thrust into the starting lineup by the second game of his career and Shazier on the second day. Neither had the time to step back and learn — until this year.

Shazier missed seven games and parts of two others, and Jones sat out nine games and half of another.

The two were hurt in the same game three plays apart, played 10 quarters together, combined for three sacks and weren't able to regain their starting position even when healthy later in the season.

“Actually, I think it really helped me learn a lot,” Shazier said. “I was learning on the go a lot, but when I sat and watched, I learned a lot from those guys and what they were doing. I got more knowledge of the playbook, and that is really going to help me.”

The way Steelers coach Mike Tomlin sees it, sitting and watching wasn't really a bad thing for Jones and Shazier.

“It creates misery, short-term misery, but also an opportunity for big-time growth,” Tomlin said.

For the Steelers to improve a defense that has struggled pressuring the quarterback and creating turnovers over the past couple of years, they are going to need their No. 1 picks to produce.

“We are going to do what we have to do,” Shazier said.

It starts with creating pressure.

A year after a 34-sack season, the Steelers managed 33 this year — their second fewest since the 16-game schedule was adopted in 1978. Twelve sacks came in the final month.

Since getting at least 47 sacks in the 2008, '09 and '10 seasons, the Steelers haven't had more than 37 sacks.

Shazier, and especially Jones, can change that in a hurry.

“Those guys are the future of the defense,” linebacker Arthur Moats said. “The team is invested with them with high picks, and you see the athletic ability that they possess, and it is time for them to start turning that corner.”

Jones said he believed he was on his way early in the season.

He had two sacks in 56 pass rushes and forced a fumble before dislocating his wrist on possibly his most disruptive play of his career.

Jones sacked Carolina quarterback Cam Newton and forced a fumble early in the third quarter of a 9-3 game.

The Steelers turned it into a touchdown and went on to a 37-19 road win.

Jones spent the next 10 weeks on the injured reserve/designated to return list before coming back for a Week 14 game against the Bengals in which he split snaps with Moats.

After James Harrison returned from an injury in Week 16, Jones rarely got on the field. He played 16 snaps over the final three games.

“My first year wasn't as good as I wanted it, and this year right here really put me behind the ball,” Jones said. “These past two years is something that I can't dwell on. It definitely wasn't what I wanted it to be. But I felt like I was good and felt like things were coming on. I was making plays and was definitely headed in the right direction.”

Shazier struggled with shedding blocks in his rookie year, but experience typically cures that. As for Jones, his size has been a question, and a battle, for two years.

Jones is listed at 245 pounds but is lighter than that. Although he acknowledged he needs to get bigger and stronger, Jones doesn't believe that will instantly make him a NFL-caliber pass rusher.

“I can say I need to put on more weight, I can get stronger and all that,” Jones said. “I just need to become a better football player.”

Jones is the only outside linebacker the Steelers have under contract.

Jason Worilds, Harrison and Moats are free agents, and if none returns, Jones would be the most experienced outside linebacker left.

Harrison thinks Jones can turn into a disruptive player.

“From (the) previous tape that I ended up seeing before he got hurt, he was looking good,” Harrison said. “He could possibly come in and do all that is necessary.”

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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