The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season ended a few weeks earlier that they had planned it to, but now that their 2015 campaign has drawn to a conclusion, it’s time to wrap things up and take stock of where they are and how they got there. Part of that process involves holding player exit meetings at the conclusion of each season.
Of course, we’re not privy to the specifics that go on in each of these meetings between head coach and player, and whomever else might be involved in any particular discussion, but if we were conducting them, it might go something like this.
Player: Jarvis Jones
Position: Outside Linebacker
Experience: 3 Years
Jarvis Jones surely did not have the season that he wanted, nor that the team or the fans wanted for him. This figures to be the opening line for every offseason review of his play going forward until the expectations for him are finally tempered to a realistic level that does not rely upon his past draft status, which by now is clear he will never live up to.
The Steelers modified their pass-rushing strategy this season under new defensive mandates, which included more one-gapping and pass-rushing responsibilities from the defensive line and, perhaps most significantly, a dedicated rotation at the outside linebacker position for the first time that I can recall.
Pittsburgh routinely rotated four outside linebackers, with Jones starting at right outside linebacker and yet still relinquishing the lion’s share of playing time to 37-year-old James Harrison. He played in and started a career-high 15 games, but his snap count was still the least of all four primary outside linebackers.
Jones recorded 29 tackles, which is not a bad number if you consider the rotation. A typical season total for a 3-4 outside linebacker tends to be I the 50-60 tackle range. While he recorded his first interception, two passes defensed, and forced a fumble, however, he still managed just two sacks during the regular season, which, it goes without saying, is rather underwhelming production for his position, even considering the playing time.
There is the consideration that the defensive staff had Jones dropping into coverage at the highest rate among all of their outside linebackers, although that only partially accounts for the low pass rush production, and it is certainly nothing new for the Steelers to use their outside linebackers in this way.
Jones did have a major breakthrough with a key strip sack in the Wildcard game, and in general, he played fairly well in the postseason, recording nine tackles and a pass defensed in addition to the strip sack between the two games.
The former first-round draft pick certainly had the best season of his young career, and undoubtedly made strides in his game, but one must wonder how close he already is to his ceiling. The Steelers have to decide this offseason if they want to take advantage of their fifth-year option, and a future projection of his capabilities will have to factor into that decision.