Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler was on with David Todd last week prior to the team’s first preseason game against the New York Giants, during which he went up and down his unit. But one of the main focuses of the discussion was, unsurprisingly, second-year outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who will be one of the main focuses of the defense this season.
Butler was asked about his troubles to get to the quarterback during his rookie year, in which he only managed to register one sack, which came against a running back in pass protection and a rookie quarterback.
As he’s talked about before during this offseason, Butler reiterated that Jones struggled to get adjusted to his assignments a year ago, occasionally being out of place or not knowing what he was supposed to do. But he sees progress in Jones in year two.
He had never been in a framework where it was as disciplined as we’ve required of him. He’s still learning the defense and learning where everybody else is at. He’ll tend to learn when he can come underneath a block or when he can go over the top of a block when he’s rushing the passer as he learns the defense. There’s some opportunity for him to go either way. He didn’t exactly know what he was doing last year, but this year he’s got a better understanding.
Of course, following the interview, Jones went on to register a sack during the Steelers’ defeat against the Giants, the only sack the team registered for the game. He was able to beat the left tackle with a heavy hand to the inside and raced into the backfield, roping up Eli Manning by the feet.
As has long been the case for Butler’s outside linebackers, however, rushing the quarterback is just a small part of their assignments. The edge rushers in this scheme frequently drop into coverage on passing downs around a quarter to a third of the time, and this is an area in which the rookie had some faults in year one.
Fortunately, Butler has seen progress there as well. It seems in his answer that he suggests he was anticipating that Jones would be better prepared for pass coverage assignments coming out of college based on his tape, but found him to be “really undisciplined” when the Steelers finally got him on the field.
He’s taken steps forward in [coverage]. We felt like he was more of a linebacker when he was at Georgia and he had some experience in pass drops, but really, he was really undisciplined when he got here. There’s a lot of things that we’re going to ask him to do that he’s going to have to be a cog in the wheel in terms of our defense. If he doesn’t do what he’s supposed to do, a lot of the defense is going to break down, so he’s got to understand what his role is.
Much of what Butler had to say about Jones’ progress in year two was on display last week in the preseason opener. The right outside linebacker had a nice opening game overall against a team that already had some reps under their belt, but that must only be the beginning.