The Pittsburgh Steelers wrapped up their third and final week of OTA practices on Thursday and with that, several coaches are finally being granted the opportunity to talk to the media about what they’ve seen out of players so far this offseason. One of those several coaches talking on Thursday was linebacker coach Joey Porter and he was asked to give a progress report on fourth-year outside linebacker Jarvis Jones.
“He knows what’s expected of him,” Porter said of Jones, who has 5 career regular season sacks since entering the league with the Steelers as a first round draft pick in 2013, according to Mike Prisuta of steelers.com. “He has more expectations for himself. So as far as what I need to see, it’s him being in shape and being ready to go to Latrobe and have a good camp, start the season off like we need him to.”
Two years ago, Jones started off the 2014 season like the Steelers needed him to do by totaling two sacks and 14 total tackles in the team’s first three regular season games. However, a wrist injury suffered in the third game against the Carolina Panthers wound up sidelining him for the following nine games and when healthy enough to return, he was relegated to mostly only seeing action on special teams. Since suffering that injury, Jones has recorded just 27 total tackles and 2 sacks although it’s worth noting that he did have 9 total tackles and a key strip sack last year in the team’s two playoff games.
Can Jones pick up where he left off in January? 2016 is a clean slate now for him and while he’s been a healthy player who should have a full understanding of his role and responsibilities in the Steelers defense so far this offseason, Porter stopped short Thursday of delivering a full evaluation of the linebacker’s growth this offseason until he sees more from him during training camp.
“He understands mentally, he knows what he’s doing, but we haven’t played any football yet, no real contact,” said Porter. “So when you ask if I see anything different, no, there’s nothing that can be shown at this point.”
Being as the Steelers decided against picking up Jones’ fifth-year option during the offseason, the Georgia product figures to be an unrestricted free agent next offseason. Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler doesn’t necessarily believe that’s a bad thing, however.
“I like the fact there’s some pressure on him that he needs to perform,” Butler said, according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Steelers DC Keith Butler on LB Jarvis Jones in last contract year: "I like the fact there’s some pressure on him that he needs to perform."
— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) June 9, 2016
As for Porter, he agrees Butler’s line of thinking.
“That’s his money. He knows what he’s up against,” Porter said of Jones contractual status, according to Chris Bradford of the Beaver County Times.
Joey Porter on Jarvis' contract being distraction: "That's his money. He knows what he's up against." #steelers
— Chris Bradford (@PghBradford) June 9, 2016
Even though a huge opportunity awaits Jones this season, you really have to wonder just how much playing time he’ll get in 2016 being as veteran outside linebacker James Harrison is back again this year as the two players normally play the same right outside linebacker spot. Last season, Harrison played 608 total defensive snaps during the regular season while Jones played 452. In other words, barring Harrison getting injured, we can probably expect a similar split in playing time between the two players again this season.
Porter did go on to say Thursday that while it’s hard to judge how Jones has grown overall as player since last season, he made sure to over-emphasize the fact that the outside linebacker has grown mentally when it comes to his understanding of the defense.
“He’s grown a lot from that standpoint, so he has shown me something,” Porter said of Jones. “But as far as actually judging these guys to see where we’re at, this is like intense flag football camp right now and that’s all you can look at it as. Until we start seeing people get took to the ground and getting beat in one-on-ones, when we can actually do stuff that makes our job what we do, I just judge them on how good they pick up the defense and mentally how far they’ve come.”
The best case scenario in 2016 for both Jones and the Steelers is that the linebacker has a career-year and one that makes him worthy of being one of the top-rated free agent edge-rushers come March. That not only could ultimately result in the Steelers winning a seventh Lombardi Trophy, but a very high 2018 compensatory draft pick as well.