By Jeremy Hritz
The Pittsburgh Steelers are only one week away from their first preseason game against the New York Giants, and the shape of the team is gradually taking form. A story line that still has legs, as training camp moves forward, that emerged after this year’s draft and picked up some steam in mini-camps and OTAs, is the possibility of Jarvis Jones starting opposite LaMarr Woodley at the right outside linebacker position. Whether it is due to the fact that all of the media attention is on him, Jones has been recognized more often than Jason Worilds for his performance in camp practices, and while it is only practice, Jones’ chances get better and better with each play that he makes in his preparation for the season.
At the beginning of camp, Jones stated that he was anxious to begin live contact drills, something that Mike Tomlin has made a staple of this year’s practices, and in his first opportunity to show what he can do physically, he made a statement in the backs on backers drill against fellow rookie Le’Veon Bell. After the effort, Jones said “I brought it. I gave some and took some, too.” As Dave Bryan pointed out later that day, several of the reports on Twitter from camp recognized Jones for a first-rate effort in the drill.
Later in the week, Jones began flashing his ability to bat down passes, something that he attributed to his study of game film of Texans star J.J. Watt. In addition to the deflections, Jones was able to pull one of them in for an interception, just the kind of play that the Steelers defense must make in 2013 to complete a reversal in the turnover department.
Jones also demonstrated versatility when he got some repetitions with the first team spot when Woodley was limited by a calf.
All in all, the majority of the reports on Jones have been affirming, and there still seems to be a chance for him to rise up as the starter on opening day. The only criticism to come out of camp so far about Jones has been his understanding of the defense, which was pointed out by Dale Lolley of the Observer-Reporter, when he said that the rookie backer looked lost at times. That is to be expected from first year players, but it is something that Jones will have to overcome if he wants to buck the trend of starting as a rookie on the Steelers defense.
Conversely, Worilds has been quiet so far in camp, and now, with a toe injury that has kept him out of practice, he may have allowed Jones the opportunity to close the gap. Writer for Steelers.com, Bob Labriola posed the question following Worilds injury on Twitter, “Is this an opening for Jarvis Jones?” While it is still early, if he can continue to make an impression, the Steelers coaching staff will be faced with a difficult decision: inexperience vs. experience.
It is entirely too early, however, to draw a valid conclusion on whether or not Jones should be the starter, and practice performance isn’t necessarily the best indicator of how a player will perform during the regular season.
But, considering Worilds history with injuries, if his toe keeps him off of the field for an extended period of time, extenuating circumstances may make the decision for the Steelers, and Jones could be the first rookie to start at outside linebacker since Jack Ham.
Will Jones be able to seize the opportunity?