One of the pleasant surprises of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 53-man roster this year was seeing first-year outside linebacker Jamir Jones make the team, as the fourth of four players at a position that often contains five. The former college free agent had a very good training camp, which he translated into stadiums during the preseason, to the point where he showed himself too valuable not to keep.
And nobody is happier about it than Danny Smith, the Steelers’ special teams coordinator. Because not only did Jones perform well on defense—he recorded a few sacks, and was a regular presence in opponents’ backfields coming off the edge—he also led the NFL in special teams tackles.
Asked what he saw in Jones that persuaded him to want to keep the first-year man on the 53-man roster for his units, Smith said on Wednesday, “it’s on the tape. I mean, look at him make plays. He’s a good player. He was a good player in the first game we played, and that caught my attention”.
Jones logged 69 snaps during the preseason on special teams, including an astonishing 31 in the preseason finale, seeing action on punt and kick return units, punt and kick coverage units, and the field goal blocking unit. The only game in which he played fewer than 14 special teams snaps was in game three, when teams have their starters playing. But now he’s going to be one of them on Smith’s units.
“He’s made plays in the preseason. I put him in some, if you will, veteran-type positions with a chance to perform, and he’s met every challenge”, the veteran special teams coordinator said. “I like him a lot. He’s gonna be a good football player. He’s just scratching the surface. His talent level and his understanding are very real and very natural, and a guy like that’s easy to coach”.
Of course special teams prowess is not what gets fans excited about a young player, except beyond the fact that it helps give them a bridge to a roster spot that will eventually help them contribute on either offense or defense down the line.
With Jones on the roster as just one of four outside linebackers, though, chances are he is going to see at least some playing time on defense, even if Melvin Ingram, as the experienced veteran number three, will want to monopolize nearly all of the snaps the starters don’t take.
T.J. Watt has not been practicing, so he may need some time to get in ‘hitting shape’, as defensive coordinator Keith Butler calls it, which means maybe playing 80 percent of the snaps instead of 90. Alex Highsmith is the other starter, who is a second-year player who started the final games of last season due to injury.
That scenario should allow for more of a rotational at the position, but really, it’s on special teams where Jones is going to be counted upon to make a difference this year. He likely will be asked to log more than 300 snaps in that phase of the game, so he should be in for a dozen or so tackles if he does his job well.