While the Pittsburgh Steelers may have gained some tangible evidence of improvement, improving their win total by three games and hosting a playoff game as a division champion for the first time in four seasons, there is no doubt that the team is far from a finished product.
No team, of course, is a finished product in the offseason. Every team loses players to free agency and retirement, and replaces them through the same free agency process, as well as the draft.
With all of the change that occurs during the offseason, it’s often difficult to predict how a particular team might fare. They may wind up holding the Lombardi trophy or the first overall draft pick when all is said and done.
In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the optimistic side of the coin.
Question: Will Jarvis Jones become the impact player the Steelers need him to be in 2015?
This is probably the single biggest question the Steelers are facing from a player personnel perspective this offseason, and it takes on much more importance if they do not re-sign Jason Worilds at the left outside linebacker position.
Pittsburgh can ill afford to go bustville on a first-round outside linebacker. If Jones fails to become the pass rusher this defense needs to flourish, then the unit as a whole will have been set back years.
Fortunately, Jones did show some progress from year one to year two, but getting a solid read on just how much progress had been made was completely derailed by a mid-season injury that wiped out most of his year.
Jones was in the process of recording his second sack of the season in the third quarter of the third game when his momentum saw him make contact with Brett Keisel, giving him a wrist injury that landed him in a the short-term injured reserve list.
He recorded two sacks and forced a fumble, recording six tackles in each of the first two games, while seemingly playing with more speed and assurance—generally, the basic improvements you would expect for a football player moving on from his rookie season.
By the time he returned to the field, Arthur Moats and James Harrison had already established a rhythm over on the right side. Harrison was injured when Jones returned, however, and the latter was used primarily in pass rushing situations in the nickel defense.
However, he didn’t quite look like the same player, and I wonder how much that might have had to do with loss of strength from being unable to work with his arm for so long.
Jones may never be the perfect specimen, but I don’t think that we have enough information on him, based on the way his second year went, to draw any solid conclusions about his future. I think he has the potential to be an impact player, even with some issues as a pass rusher, which the Steelers could supplement with a rotational rusher in passing situations if necessary.