The Pittsburgh Steelers are entering their third season with former first-round outside linebacker Jarvis Jones on the roster, and they have yet to determine whether or not he is a starting-caliber player. There have been mitigating circumstances, of course.
Last season, Jones recorded two sacks during the first three games before suffering a wrist injury that wiped out more than half his season and left him at less than 100 percent—and out of his starting role—when he returned late in the year.
The Steelers brass acknowledge along with the rest of us that they are not sure if Jones is a starter, which is in large part why they re-signed both Arthur Moats (at arguably a starter’s salary) and James Harrison, despite the fact that he will be 37 years old, and why they are fully expected to add at least one pass rusher on the first two days of the draft.
Head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert both acknowledged that the starting outside linebacker positions are somewhat up for grabs. In other words, it’s wholly possible that Harrison and Moats are the Steelers’ opening day starting outside linebackers.
Let’s say that Jones does lose out on the starting opportunity, then. What we do know is that Harrison is not going to play a full season. The coaches wouldn’t let him play 1000 snaps even if he were physically capable of doing so at this point in his career.
So at the very worst, Jones will be rotating with Harrison at some level, and perhaps with Moats on the left side as well. Tomlin also acknowledged that all three had better be capable of playing both sides of the field when speaking about the state of the position earlier this offseason.
What, then, when he is not being rotated in as a traditional 3-4 outside linebacker?
I can’t help but wonder if new defensive coordinator Keith Butler has any intentions of using Jones as a more versatile defender, a moving part, much the way that he was used in college.
While there are many criticisms of Jones’ college tape and the way in which his system was designed to get him in the position to make plays, the one thing that can’t be denied is that he did prove able to make those plays when he was there to be made.
The early portions of the season saw him close twice on sacks, the latter of which also resulted in a forced fumble. Could Jones possibly translate some of that college success to the professional level if the Steelers were able to scheme him open to make plays?
I must admit that that is something I would like to find out.
It is also worth pointing out that there was a brief period of time during Jones’ rookie season that the Steelers did put in a package that utilized its top three outside linebackers at the same time, but the window of opportunity in which all three of them were healthy at the same time was small, and we didn’t get to see much of this.
With Pittsburgh hurting in terms of its ability to generate pressure, this is a package that may well be under consideration under Butler, whom some players have suggested may be more inclined to blitz. A three outside linebacker package could be both productive for the Steelers and a clever way of keeping Jones engaged should he fail to lock down a starting spot.