Much like with Pittsburgh’s second round draft choice, Senquez Golson, and his dual-sport skills, it seems the Steelers have another athlete whose athleticism isn’t merely limited to the gridiron. At Carver High School in Columbus, Georgia, Steelers outside linebacker Jarvis Jones was one of the most sought after prospects in the nation, and Tom Lemming, the acclaimed recruiting analyst, had him ranked as the #1 inside linebacker in the nation. His story is well-traveled, from committing to USC, to sustaining a neck injury and being diagnosed with spinal stenosis to the University of Georgia, where his place of employment was in opposing backfields. At one point, the two-time All-American was the man-crush of ESPN draft guru, Mel Kiper Jr. , as he was ranked #1 on his “Big Board.”
However, none of that may have came to fruition if Jones had followed his love of hoops.
“I could have played Division I basketball,” Jones said, according to Scott Brown, the ESPN Pittsburgh Steelers reporter. “Just a guy that played hard and doing what I do now.”
An All-State basketball player at Carver, Jones chose football, but when he got the news from Trojans’ team physicians that he may not be able to play again, he almost tried out for the USC basketball team.
However, that never came about, and his best bragging rights are that one time during an AAU game in Orlando, Fla. he lit up the scoreboard, scoring 20 points against Blake Griffin. Yes that Griffin, the 6-foot-10, 251-pound man child and 5-time NBA All-Star of the Los Angeles Clippers. This wasn’t their first time squaring off, as Jones notes the two had played before during his freshman year at Carver. Asked about their head-to-head matchups, Jones had a pretty simple reply.
“He was dunking though. He always could jump,” Jones said, according to Brown.
He even noted Griffin almost posterized him with one of his vicious, Sportscenter Top-10 highlight dunks, but Jones moved out of the way.
For some members of the Steelers locker room, it’s very apparent the skillset Jones has, and some of those same traits easily transfer from the hardwood over to the football field.
“Footwork and things like that are hard to teach,” former teammate Brett Keisel said, according to Brown. “Athletic ability is hard to teach, and what sets him apart is the things that he makes look easy would be extremely difficult for a different player. You just see a lot of natural ability even outside of playing football. That’s what makes him special.”
The Steelers front office obviously felt he possessed special athletic gifts as well, sacrificing their 2013 first round pick on Jones. Although his first two seasons in the league have been viewed as somewhat of a disappointment, that can be looked at with a glass half full sentiment. He was basically a rookie starter in Dick LeBeau’s complex defensive scheme, and what rookie has had success right off the bat being thrown into that? Not even the great Troy Polamalu. Secondly, Jones was firing out of the gates in 2014, registering 2 sacks in his first 3 games before a wrist injury sidelined him for basically the remainder of the year. By the time he returned, the wrist still wasn’t quite 100 percent plus a resurgent James Harrison was playing better than anyone expected.
In the upcoming season, he will be looked upon to play significant snaps and provide the type of pass rush that enticed the Steelers to take him in the first round back in ’13.
With outside linebackers coach, Joey Porter’s recent comments about trying to monitor the 37-year old Harrison to around 25 snaps per game, the time is now for Jones.
He’s obviously gifted athletically, and hopefully 2015 is the year the puzzle pieces finally come together for him.
“I know what it’s like to not have this game in my life,” he said, according to ESPN.com. “I treat it like it’s my last. Going through what I’ve gone through, I understand you never know when it’s all going to be taken away.”