The Pittsburgh Steelers opened their preseason schedule last night with a 20-16 loss to the New York Giants, but a preseason game without any major injuries is always a small victory in its own right.
Mistakes were made, and moments were had. The upward and downward trends are only beginning to develop over the course of this month. But one player who certainly sent his stock on an upward trend in East Rutherford is undrafted free agent outside linebacker Howard Jones.
While he failed to register a tackle in his obviously limited time on defense, he started off the game with a notch on special teams by taking down returner Quintin Demps at the 18-yard line after a 23-yard return into the end zone.
Jones is hoping to wrest a roster spot away from fourth-year outside linebacker Chris Carter, whose contributions on defense over the years have been underwhelming, and who only registered two special teams tackles a year ago.
Needless to say, carving out a niche for himself on special teams is the best way for him to do just that, considering the Steelers already figure to carry nine linebackers, including a ninth linebacker that will be capable of playing either inside or outside.
Later in the game, early in the third quarter, after Tauren Poole helped prevent Charles James from securing a Brad Wing punt, Jones fell on the muffed punt and recovered it for the Steelers, giving them possession at the Giants’ 21, which the offense converted into three points.
As if that wasn’t enough, Jones recovered another fumble early in the fourth quarter after fellow outside linebacker Vic So’oto got a hand on a backwards pass. Jones scooped it up and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown.
Carter, meanwhile, also failed to record a tackle during the game, though he did register a pressure on the quarterback.
As it is, Carter and Arthur Moats for now will likely remain as the second-team outside linebackers, with Jones and So’oto running the third-team rushing spots as we head into the second preseason game.
But there will certainly be an opportunity for upward mobility in the pecking order going forward, and the undrafted rookie’s first taste of NFL action, without having as of yet fully reviewed the game, could only have helped his cause.
When you make multiple plays on special teams, that is a good sign. Recovering multiple fumbles is even better. Displaying the instincts and awareness to play to the whistle on what was an unclear backwards pass is certainly a desirable trait in a young player. Jones is off to a good start, but it will mean nothing if he doesn’t build on it.