Depending on how the offseason goes, the Pittsburgh Steelers could certainly be relying on Jarvis Jones to start at outside linebacker in his second season next year—which would make sense, given the investment the team has placed in him.
With the injuries to LaMarr Woodley over the course of the second half of the season, Jones has gotten more playing time than anticipated, and he ended up starting the last game of the season.
It is in my estimation that he showed some growth in his final game of the year in comparison to where he started out, though he knows as well as any the work ahead of him to get to the level the Steelers need him to attain next year.
Jones got his day started off early, making an impact on the second play of the game when he sniffed out a screen pass and dropped the receiver for a two-yard loss to set up a third and long. Jones dropped in coverage on third down but left his post to pressure Jason Campbell into an incompletion to force the Browns to punt.
In fact, Jones had a career-high nine tackles in the season finale as he routinely helped rope down a runner that managed to leak into the second level. That was the case here on this run by Edwin Baker, doing a good job of getting free of the block of tight end Jordan Cameron to make the tackle.
Though the Steelers allowed a first down on this third and one carry by Baker, Jones still had a fine showing on the play, freeing himself of the block of the pulling right guard to wrap up the back after a short gain.
Jones has also made strides in his play out in space, as the Steelers continue to drop him into coverage more and more frequently. His pass deflection here in front of Josh Gordon shows a better sense of spatial awareness than he possessed earlier in the season, which helped get him benched.
Needless to say, Jones is still by no means a finished product. While he has progressed some in his pass rush, he still has a tendency to allow himself to be walked up the arc. His assignment discipline can also lapse at times, but he has clearly gotten the hang of the defense for the most part.
Most importantly, however, he has gradually come to play faster and more instinctively over the year. He must continue to build on that as he heads into the offseason and prepares for possibly a starting role in 2014.