Learning Curve For Jarvis Jones Points To Sidelines And Sub-Packages In Year One

By Matthew Marczi

The Pittsburgh Steelers did not draft Jarvis Jones in the first round just to have him sit on the bench all season as a 24-year old rookie. Just ask any one of the several local or national media outlets that have striven to magnify the supposed ‘battle’ between Jones and incumbent Jason Worilds for the starting right outside linebacker spot.

Perhaps there will legitimately be an open competition for the starting spot—although with just one day of training camp left there has yet to be any indication that the team intends to give Cameron Heyward the opportunity to unseat either Ziggy Hood or Brett Keisel for a starting defensive end spot, something many have reported will take place.

Perhaps he will be given the opportunity to unseat Worilds from his starting spot, back on the South Side when the team moves their practices back there next week after the game against the Washington Redskins.

But the reality is that, playing the odds, even if Jarvis Jones is afforded the opportunity to seize the starting spot come opening week, he is unlikely to win. And Jarvis Jones winning the starting job in his rookie season may not even be in the best interests of the team—may not get the most out of the player.

He may have flashed the potential to separate the ball from the runner and to bat down passes, but his pass rushing repertoire needs refining, he has been handled in blocking drills by tight ends Nathan Overbay and Jamie McCoy, and he needs to learn to set the edge of the defense properly against the run.

He also needs time to understand the defense.

It is certainly nothing for which Jones deserves any amount of blame; it is simply a fact of the matter. He understands how important it is to learn the intricacies of the defense, and he also understands that he still has a long way to go before he can say that he knows it, let alone feels comfortable executing it.

Being given the opportunity to log some time with the first team defense in a game, in fact, merely served to bring home to him the fact that he still has a lot to learn:

[The starters] talk a lot more than the other guys because they understand where they need to be and where we need to be to make plays to get off the field. As far as students of the game they are way past us. With the other guys we are learning it all together.

They are way past where I am as far as understanding this defense and the game of football. I just have to continue to work on my technique, craft and being a student of the game. Being out there with those guys, you have to play up to their potential. That’s what gives me energy. It brings intensity to the game of football.

Having an inexperienced player out there on defense for 70 snaps a game is not doing the Steelers any favors. Nobody knows this better than the architect behind that defense, Dick LeBeau.

For as much vitriol as he receives, William Gay is the type of player that LeBeau simply cannot get enough of. Having a player like Gay on the field allows LeBeau to do so much, because it allows the defense to be versatile. Because he knows his players on the field can adjust on the fly and can communicate with one another. Because they can do multiple things on the field.

William Gay is a jack of all trades, and master of none. This is no secret. He is not an exceptional athlete, but he can play cornerback, nickel, and safety. He can blitz well off the edge. He can cover for somebody else ad libbing on a read. He can even block a punt. It is versatility and synchronicity as much as pure talent that makes Dick LeBeau’s defense, or any great defense, work so well.

Tremendous athletes such a Troy Polamalu and Lawrence Timmons have the ability to ad lib within the defense not only because they understand it, but because everybody else around them understands as well. When Ryan Mundy was in a game over the years for Polamalu, it significantly curbed the options at LeBeau’s disposal; or as he might put it, he suddenly got a lot dumber.

The outside linebacker position in LeBeau’s 3-4 is not the same as it is in other defenses around the league. I have highlighted their significantly greater than average responsibilities in pass coverage, for example, and that is not an easy thing for a rookie to embrace. One day Jones will probably be one of those special talents that have the privilege of playing their instincts in LeBeau’s defense, but he is not there yet.

The fact is that Jarvis Jones is very likely ahead of the learning curve as far as rookies are concerned. He is slightly older, played in a 3-4 in college, and is a willing learner. And that will help him get on the field plenty as a rookie. But the odds are that it will be in sub-packages, where he has specific assignments and can be his most effective, least encumbered, most explosive, in his first season—not as the starter.

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • bonairsfavoriteson

    Well, I guess if all the young players can’t handle the so called complex Steeler way of doing things, we have to play the guys that don understand but can’t play any more, hello to our future. 5-11, 6-10. etc.

  • Dom

    That comment doesn’t even make sense

  • Bob Loblaw

    If you’d stop being silly and take a look at our past you’d see they’ve had success not immediately starting players. There’s a reason other franchises are trying to emulate the Steelers, and it’s a track record of success.

  • Shea Fahr

    Good piece Matt. I would not be shocked to see him take over as a starter next year though. He seems to be pretty smart and able to pick things up quicker than some of our OLB’s of the past. A little more added strength and a year of learning and we could have a Beast of a linebacker there.

  • Rob H

    He’s trying (and poorly I might add) to make a tired argument made by fans with no knowledge of what it takes to learn and play in this defense, and it doesn’t matter how many times you tell them that Troy and all the other great players didn’t start in their rookie season either. The idiocy of the 5-11 prediction speaks for itself.

  • frednash

    jones will play a ton this year

    injuries will happen

    all 53 plus more will be needed

  • Milliken Steeler

    Bonair, you have to be a troll, because the comment makes no sense.

    This is a nice story but what he seems to do well and now is be around the ball and cause turn overs. He might not start but he is going to see the field often.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    I’m going disagree slightly with (what I believe to be) the missing premise of this article. “HOW” does a player learn the complexities of this defense?

    I believe the fastest way for Jarvis to become battle ready is throw him into live action. Yes, he is going to make some mistakes. That is inevitable, whether you have him sit and learn for two years or start him from day one. But the sooner he sees the field the sooner he will produce the plays we expect/need a 1st rounder to do.

    If you need to hire a tudor 12 hours a day to pump his brain full of playbook repetitions… DO IT. If you need to hire a stretching/strength coach 4 hours a day to get him in better shape… DO IT. Give him the crash course on all fronts. But get him on the field and let him learn that way.

  • cencalsteeler

    Bottom line is we are all excited to see what this kid has but he is not ready to be a starter. I feel somewhat sorry for Worilds and the fact that he is being overshadowed by Jones and all the hype. LeBeau will sprinkle Jones in on certain packages and when Worilds needs a breather, but it is Worilds job to lose. I personally am pulling for Jason, he’s a talented player.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Jones will play significant snaps this year regardless of injuries.

  • bonairsfavoriteson

    STAR, you seem to be the only one that really gave some thought to what I wrote above, all we read about is our first round picks at defensive end is they are busts because they are not playing up to expectations or in one case getting on the field, our number 2 pick jason is for the most part a flop because he is not a starter going into his fourth year, seems the only defensive players drafted by 3-4 teams actually getting a lot of early playing time are the ones drafted by other teams, If playing within the design of lebeau’s 3-4 is so important, I wonder why it is that troy more or less free lances so much. We went from 12-4 to 8-8 . it is not that much of a drop to 5- 11. The black and gold crusaders that think our division opponents are not getting better are in for a shock come the regular season. And for the troll business, lmao, I was going with my DAD to watch the Steelers play at old forbes field before most of and maybe all the above posters not named STAR, WERE EVEN BORN. oNE THING FOR SURE, i DON’T LIKE KOOL AIDE.

  • Matthew Marczi

    The fact that Polamalu is able to freelance is precisely why Jarvis Jones is not ready to play yet, and what makes LeBeau’s defense a beautiful system. It takes 11 players consistently being on the same page and comfortable with not only the defense, but with each other. There are more moving parts on defense than pretty much anywhere else around the league, and LeBeau consistently tweaks and adjusts on the fly. That is something that you need to be comfortable doing. If you have a player in there that is not comfortable, that hamstrings a coordinator like LeBeau, and the other players on the field. You have to compensate for that one player’s inability to be comfortable adapting on the fly. It throws out the most exotic plays from the playbook. It prevents players like Polamalu and Timmons from being able to freelance because they can’t count on the rest of the defense to adjust and cover for the ad lib.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    If he can’t hold the edge and isn’t getting any pressure rushing the passer and still doesn’t have the full knowledge of dropping in coverage…what sub package is there for him?

  • Shannon Stephenson

    We are throwing away talent even though I wasn’t happy with Worlids in the 2nd round of the draft that is what they did but know it seems like it was a wasted pick.

  • Matthew Marczi

    It’s not that he can’t do those things, it’s that he needs to learn how to do them consistently. That is the difference between being a starter and being a contributor. One of his best pass rushing moves is an inside move. Keith Butler said that he is working on packages that have all three OLBs on the field at the same time, with Jones inside. So that’s one area in which he can contribute.

    I also expect to see him get better the more he plays in the preseason. I think a lot of his play in the first game can easily be attributed to first game jitters, like Markus Wheaton. I mean, who knows, maybe he plays so well, so much better than Worilds, that he forces the team’s hands and they have to start him, warts, rookie mistakes, and all. Although I sincerely doubt it.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    I believe he will get better but I just didn’t see anything in the 1st game. It was just the 1st preseason game but I expected at least a lil more then what I saw. Can’t wait to see the progress this Monday!!!

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    I see what you’re trying to say, and I agree with part of it, but consider this… The reason why our defense is always better than other teams is because we do things different than other teams.

    We are more creative. We are more complex. We are more experienced. And we make less mistakes. If you throw a bunch of rookies out there, you’re going to lose that advantage. (As the Ravens will discover this year.)

    My problem is (and the part I agree with you on is) the learning process is taking too long with our 1st and 2nd round defensive rookies. Why is that? Two years ago, the Rooneys made a public comment about that same issue. Dan Rooney (i believe) said, “We need to get the rookies on the field sooner.”

    Design some plays around them. Make their jobs simple. And let the veterans freelance around them. You can’t continue to keep old or unathletic veterans (like Gay and Foote and Hampton) on the field year after year because they’re smart and you’re comfortable with them, while your better athletes (like Keenan Lewis, Timmons, and even Steve McClendon) ride the bench.

    Some may argue, they haven’t proven they can do it yet. Well, they can’t prove it if they’re on the bench. I believe you have to learn on the field. Remember these same “experienced” veteran guys led us to 8-8 last year. So I say give the young players more reps. It’s not like we’re risking as much as in previous years.

    And I don’t think you’re a troll.

  • sean mcmartin

    Extremely disappointing that LeBeau would rather have a proven liability is gay and actually wants him here. I don’t care if he understands the defense he has repeatedly shown in his last run here and the preseason he is the go to guy for opposing QB’s when they need the big completion, I figured once Landry Jones schooled gay in the SB, The Steelers finally realized he sucked.
    what is wrong with the Steelers coveting a guy who sucks. I have watched enough of him getting beat to say it. As long as you know the defense it doesnt matter if you can play good or not???? sounds like very flawed logic.

  • sean mcmartin

    agreed..how lame it is to say he knows the defense so he stays..even though he gets beat regularly, and gives up the big play every game..
    they knew lewis was better and let him walk..

  • sean mcmartin

    The ravens seem to do a good emulation of the Steelers and ozzy even gets feee agents that help their team win..we get gay back..

  • Bob Loblaw

    The Ravens have also had the luxury of having their franchise QB still on his rookie contract. Which changed this year. When Flacco’s cap hit starts jumping up they’re not going to have that luxury.

    Fans shouldn’t be griping about the Gay signing (which was a depth move) and be more worried that the people eating the most cap space have spent a lot of time on the bench hurt.