Steelers Rookie LB Jarvis Jones: A Quick Learner?

By Jeremy Hritz

Thursday morning, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Ed Bouchette wrote about the possibility of rookie first round draft pick Jarvis Jones earning the starting right outside linebacker position opposite LaMarr Woodley.

In order for that to occur, according to Bouchette, his ability to assimilate the 3-4 defense has to be sharp: “The better Jones knows the defense, the more chance he will have to start in it. Woodley flashed great pass-rush ability as a rookie in 2007, but did not start a game because he did not know the defense.”

It’s no secret that the Dick LeBeau 3-4 is complex, and that the learning process in mastering it is a time consuming one. In the learning process for defenders working to start on the Steelers defense, understanding the 3-4 terminologies and concepts is one thing, but the application of them to various offensive formations in different game situations is an entirely separate challenge. Throw in the pressure of wanting to perform at a high level and avoiding mistakes, it is understandable why it is as difficult as it is to not only start on the Steelers defense, but also to be successful.

Last offseason, there was similar speculation that then rookie Sean Spence had an opportunity to start on the inside of the defense because he not only possessed the physical tools essential for middle linebacker, but also because he indicated that could quickly pick up the defense. LeBeau said about Spence last season during OTAs, “[he’s] a very sharp young man…. he is picking up our system as well as anybody at this point.” Additionally, linebackers coach Keith Butler acknowledged that Spence had an opportunity to work his way into the defense: “I wouldn’t say he’s not going to play.”

Similar to the praise that Spence received last year, Butler said about Jones: “He’s picked some things up…. He’s still learning, but he’s learning at a quicker pace than most guys we drafted at that position as a defensive end.” If anything, this indicates that Jones is learning the defense at an accelerated rate in comparison to players that have come before him.

Earning a starting role on the Steelers defense as a rookie is an exception and not that standard, as Bouchette cites that the last rookie outside linebacker to start for the Steelers was Hall of Famer Jack Ham in 1971, who started every game. While nobody is expecting Jones to be the next Ham, if he can improve the output of sacks and pressures at the outside linebacker position for the team, his rookie season will be considered a success.

LeBeau seems to be a fan of Jones, as he said in a recent interview on Steelers.com that Jones has a “great work ethic” and that he is a “great young man.” He also said that he was impressed with the humility that Jones has displayed and that he wants to earn his opportunity through hard work. If Jones can sustain this passion and drive to contribute this season, then he may have an outside shot to beat out Jason Worilds.

But, the pads have yet to come on, and when Mike Tomlin was recently asked whether or not the rookies could “distinguish” themselves without contact, his response was an emphatic, “no.”

There are still many stops along the way before Jones’ role is determined for 2013, but the buzz that is currently surrounding it is reason for optimism in Steelers Nation.

  • lefnor

    Did anyone look at Jarvis Jones’ OTA photos? How weak his upper body (his biceps is ridiculous)? And not just compared to the other OLBs.
    He is not ready for the NFL. He needs at least one year of serious weight lifting…

  • Jazz

    I agree 150%! I thought I was the only one that noticed this; this guy looks to be extremely weak in the upper part of his body. I think he could potentially end up being a bust. I said so when they drafted him, hopefully I’m wrong.

  • Dom

    We already have our big bulky OLB’s in Woodley etc. You don’t have to be built like a tank to play OLB effectively if you can use your hands and your feet well.

  • Paul

    I’ve said this time and time again, but yet Steeler Nation seems to consider me a “hater”. He’s on the road to being a bust. Not built for the outside. He may be able to play the middle though. Don’t forget Timmons was drafted as a OLB, but moved to ILB. Hopefully, he can do that, because he isn’t built to beat LT’s in this league. Just my thought!

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    I’m in a weird and awkward position as a NFL Draft buff and a hardcore Steelers fan. I personally love Jarvis Jones as a defensive player, he’s probably the most cerebal defensive propsect. He is a “read and react” linebacker who can pass-rush. I hate that Steelers drafted him not because he’s not a good “fit” (will get to that in a bit) but because how traditional Steelers defense are with Lebeau’s tendencies.

    I have hoped that Jarvis Jones is an indication of our defense adapting and picking more schematic positions for players like Ziggy Hood, S. McLendon, and L. Timmons. If that is the indication, all shall exceeds our expectation. If like Ziggy Hood, they expect him to be a traditional defensive end like who Aaron Smith was, Jarvis Jones will be bust before he even wear pads.

    If you play within 8 years between high school and college with how you play that what made them so good then we want them to forget what they learned completely, that’s just… asking too muchand pushing the envelope. Because we have few of those kind of players now, the expectation of mine is that Steelers accept the fate and adapts.

  • Gautama Om

    Definitely not in game 1 but most likely sometime during the season. You have to remember that he’s not only working on learning the defensive scheme but he’s also learning to clean up his “weaknesses” or technique.

  • Gautama Om

    Fortunately for him in the 3-4 our DE’s will be lining up against their OT’s most times.

  • Jefferson_St_Joe

    That is one of the best comments I have seen on this site. Your comments about completely breaking down and rebuilding players to the system are right on the money. While I can’t argue with the success of this type of development, there is a real problem with the economics of not having players ready to contribute until the end of their rookie contracts. (Most teams develop QBs faster than the Steelers develop 2 down nose tackles.)

    I share the same concerns about Jones. The one thing I take some solace in is that several different ‘types’ of players have manned that side going back through Kevin Greene, Gildon, Porter and Harrison. Also,LeBeau has shown the inclination to fast track the guys with special talent like Polamalu and Woodley, to name a couple. Neither of those players were similar to their predecessors. I just hope Jones is that kind of talent.

  • lefnor

    You have to be effective against the run. Good feet and hand usage not enough for that. But we will see that at training camp and preseason games.
    Btw Steelers Mini Camp Day 2 Photos 35/88. No comment.

  • GhettoBelligerent

    So because he’s got lean biceps, he’s being labeled a bust before he’s even had a chance to put on the pads? You guys are making the same mistake 16 other teams did in passing on the most explosive pass-rusher in the draft because he had a slow 40 and small biceps. Bottom line – he can get after the quarterback, and proved that against SEC (read NFL) tackles. Sure he’s got some work to do in the weight room, but I’d much rather get a guy like Jarvis and stick him on a weightlifting regimen, than grab some workout warrior and try to teach him to rush the passer.

  • Michael Jeffrey

    He’s an OLB, not a DE. What the hell are you even talking about?

  • Jefferson_St_Joe

    He is saying different players have different skills and you can’t get the most out of a player if you pigeon hole them in to playing the position the same way as their predecessor. Hood replacing Smith is a decent example.

  • Michael Jeffrey

    Maybe that’s what he was trying to say, but he needs to word it better because this…

    “If like Ziggy Hood, they expect him to be a traditional defensive end like who Aaron Smith was, Jarvis Jones will be bust before he even wear pads.”

    …sounds like he’s trying to say Jones is a DE.

  • 2443scott

    so if jarvis was on team when woodley and harrison were hurt would he then be good enough to start …he already played in a 3-4 so hes a step up on almost any other lber i dont know if jarvis be any good but that can be said of a few of the lbers but since they been on team for 3 to 4 years they are suppose to be better even tho they didnt play much we can keep letting the new rookies sit and play half talented people and when year 4 comes around say now what do we do ….nfl is so diff then was some years back these kids coming in now a days think new they say do enough to stay on team collect that pay then if all goes well get a big pay day some where else ..so they need to play sooner or release them and get some one who will ..every time i hear butler talk i think here we go again cause he dont like rookies he would play any one who has 2 mintues more experience ….

  • Russian Steel

    I love the pessimistic idiots on this site who seem to think Jones is incapable of building up his body for strength and speed and are already labeling him a bust. Anyone can get stronger and even improve their speed some. Ziggy Hood is an animal in the weight room but has the football instincts of a ballerina. Jones will be fine. He now gets paid a lot of money to work out for a living. The Steelers know this because he checks out as basically a good guy who wants to be a great player in the NFL. They drafted him for his talent as a football player that made him one of the best linebackers ever in the SEC. He dominated the SEC without having to work out… maybe some of you are jealous. Seriously put yourself in his shoes…if you were that talented and didn’t need to work out would you? I bet most wouldn’t. Sure it was a mistake since it cost him a lot of money, and he may even have been better than Jadeveon Clowney who will almost surely go in the top three next year. Just be thankful he was cocky/lazy because it’s why we were able to get someone of his caliber so late. He will be fine in the NFL even this year though because of his elite instincts. After a year of strength and speed training, he’ll be so good most of you will be like ‘Harrison who?’ At least give the dude a chance. I mean, different sport but Babe Ruth was a fat ass and still one of the greatest if not the greatest player of all time. Looks aren’t everything.

  • GhettoBelligerent

    Haha that pic is kinda bad, but you can find bad pics from weird angles of just about anybody. If you just glanced at that though without knowing who it was, you might think it was a WR. He weighed 245 at the combine (3 pounds more than James Harrison is listed), so if you figure he can add just 10-15 pounds of muscle to his upper body, he’ll be JPeezy sized and ready to wreck it.

    BTW, I’m more concerned with pic 29/88 in that package, and what kind of shape my man Lamarr is in.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    Sorry you couldn’t read, I’ll be so MUCH more clear “IF Jarvis Jones, LIKE Ziggy Hood as in aspect of development” and continue reading. Better?

  • lefnor

    That pic is not an exception. He looks lean everywhere. But I don’t care about it, I hope he can add 10-15 pounds of muscle – like you said – and be a very good player. Period.

    You don”t have to worry about Woodley at all.

    He is in PERFECT SHAPE. Just look at the 59/88 and 28/88 (behind Worilds) photo. Those should convince you.

  • retiredmd7

    In 1974, critics panned the Steeler’s 2nd round draft choice, calling him a “beanpole LB” and an “outlandish reach”. His name was Jack Lambert.

  • Russian Steel

    Excellent example. Hopefully some pessimistic jerk doesn’t start rattling off examples of busts. I get it Jones could be a bust just like any draft pick, but right now, given his current attitude and past accomplishments, I definitely don’t think bust. But hey, I’m an idiot who at least likes to wait until the guy we draft plays a snap before spouting bust so what do I know.

  • Rob

    Jones left a lot of folks looking at his measurable abilities which were not that great. His performance in college came against talent that is far less than what is on Nfl rosters. His 3 4 performance was not near what is required in the nfl. So naturally a lot of folks were underwhelmed by his selection.

    One thing that a lot of folks do not take into account with lean folks is the strength that they may have. Lambert as previously mentioned was a good example. Ryan Clark is a good tackler and big hitter but he is not a huge man, so it is quite possible to be effective at a smaller size.

    Comparing him to James Harrison he will come up short every time. James Harrison was a tremendous player for the Steelers and arguably one of if not the best outside linebacker in the nfl for a lot of years. He also looked the part as he was powerfully built and was called by many as the strongest player on the team.

    I like many others think we had better players available than Jones but he’s ours now so I hope he works out well and proves me wrong.

  • Anthony G

    Jarvis Jones is 6’2, 245. There used to be this guy who played for the Giants who was listed at 6’3, 237. Last I checked, he was considered the best defensive player of all time. Perhaps you’ve heard of Lawrence Taylor?

    Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not comparing Jarvis Jones to LT. Nobody short of another hall of famer deserves that honor, if even then. The point is that LT DOMINATED with a build that is arguably thinner than JJ is currently carrying.

    For the record, I did see his OTA photos. I also noted that he was wearing black sleeves, which made his arms look much thinner than they actually are. If you look at most pictures where he’s *not* wearing black sleeves, his arms look about right for a guy of 245. Sure, they’re not as big as Woodley’s, but who’s are?

    You can’t expect JJ to toss people around like Harrison did. There is a reason they called him “Silverback”. He was built like a stump and stronger than most other guys on the field.

    Jones isn’t a power guy, he’s a speed and technique guy. A sack is a sack, a tackle is a tackle, a forced fumble is a forced fumble. Last I heard, this guy is pretty good at all three. I don’t care if he does cartwheels to the QB, as long as it ends with the QB on the ground. At that point, maybe he’ll flex his “skinny” biceps for all of the critics. Then again, he seems to be a hard working, humble guy, so maybe he won’t

  • lefnor

    First, I like your sarcasm. You definitely needed that.
    I have a photo autographed by Joe Theismann. Perhaps you’ve heard of him? Can you connect the dots?
    “Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not comparing Jarvis Jones to LT.” – But you just did ;) And that is ridiculous.

    Jarvis Jones posted 43.5 TFL and 28 sacks. You’re right.
    5 years ago Tomlin & Colbert drafted a talented OLB in the 3rd round from the PAC-12 who posted 29 sacks and 42.5 TFL during his college carrier. Perhaps you’ve heard of Bruce Davis? Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not comparing Jarvis Jones to Bruce Davis. The point is that college stats don’t garantee anything!

    And to be clear once and for all. I don’t hate Jones and I didn’t call him a bust. I just wrote that he needs at least one year serious weightlifting before he get the starting ROLB spot (like Heyward and the RDE spot, btw he needed more time and just hope that he is ready now phisically). That’s all.
    Now I’m the devil.

  • Michael Jeffrey

    My reading skills are perfectly fine, thank you. Your sentence was very ambiguous and I’m sorry if you want to act like a child and refuse to admit that.

  • Anthony G

    If criticizing Steelers’ draft picks makes someone the devil, hell is going to be quite crowded.

    In reference to the comparison, the topic in question is the impact of “skinny” arms or a lanky build on a player’s ability to be successful in the NFL. LT is quite simply the best example of this. Jack Lambert would be right behind him as an example of the same (albeit at a slightly different position).

    So, with the question “Can a (relatively) slightly built linebacker be successful in the NFL?”, I post the best example to illustrate that this IS, in fact possible. At no point is it meant to argue that Jones is comparable to LT in any regard OTHER THAN build. It’s quite unfair to discredit a statement based on something unrelated to the intent of said statement. I didn’t say “LT was undersized (in terms of weight), and Jones is undersized, therefore Jones is the next LT”.

    All of that being said, I apologize if my sarcasm came off as overly snarky and offensive. It does sort of read that way. My tone was more smart a$$ than outright jerk, but of course it’s not easy to read that on the internet. ;)

    And don’t worry. You’re not the devil. You have concern about his size. I don’t. Difference of opinion. Last I checked, we are free to express such opinions (at least for now ;) ).

  • Superdriller316

    Backs on Backers: Will Johnson vs. Jarvis Jones…..
    I’m taking Johnson. He’s going to lay Jones out.

  • charles

    Excelent conversation that you started Mr Heath. My ten cents worth is that I hope that Jones can make a rookie impact in situational pass rushing opportunities. Qb pressure was the largest problem, not just last year but the year before as well, that we could actually do something about. Clearly it is why we drafted him and in todays NFL salary caps, we would have hit a rookie home run if Jones gets 7 sacks on nickel and dime situations.

  • alex

    for the Steelers, this draft will be all about JJ…Timmons is stronger and faster than Jones, and he did little, albiet, playing limited time, in Harrisons shoes…

    cant wait to see him in pre-season!

  • Bob Loblaw

    Just look at Joey Porter. He wasn’t a big guy like Woodley, but managed to get sacks and make plays. Jones’s weight is right around what Porter’s was.

  • Slab

    I’m on board with the “blame the black sleeves”. Google pics and look at Jones’ arms in a Georgia uniform. He’s not in Woodley’s class yet, but he’s no slouch either.

  • Anthony G

    Even if he is stronger and faster, it doesn’t mean he’s better suited to the position. People forget about technique. From what I read, Jones’ technique is his prime asset. Someone was quoted saying that if Jones got his hands on you, he’d embarrass you (or something to that effect). Hopefully the same technique translates well to the NFL.

    As far as Timmons is concerned, I really have no idea why they ever tried him on the outside. His skills are more “seek and destroy” and make him ideally suited to tracking down a runner before lighting him up than rushing the QB consistently. From what I have noticed personally, many of his sacks and TFLs come from shooting the gap, not from outright beating a blocker.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    I do not care for its grammar structure, if you want to blast that, go crazy. English is my second language and every day I have every 10 people who understood what I’m saying or meant and then there’s always that one person… who just want to bite on ridiculous little things and underwhelmed the context of my writing.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    I hope so too, I suspect we will see more of 3-5-3 that could benefit and utilitize Jones. This works well against teams who use two TEs frequently.