Pittsburgh Steelers’ outside linebacker Jarvis Jones has been a topic of much discussion for four straight preseasons. In 2013, many prophesied him to lead the defense into a new age of success. In 2016, those same seers hold the door open for his immediate departure from the Steel City.
Jones’ exploits (or lack thereof) are well documented in Pittsburgh. His struggle adjusting to a pro level defense in his rookie year. The wrist injury that sidelined him for much of the year in 2014. The lingering issues with the wrist and an elbow injury to go along with it in 2015.
These are by no means excuses, and hopefully Jones would not consider them as such. Athletes are often dealt a bad hand in professional sports, and it is how they play the hand they are dealt is what makes them extraordinary…or something completely opposite.
The Steelers chose to decline Jones’ fifth-year option that was available to them for him being a first round draft pick, and rightfully so. Jones simply has not shown the Steelers enough that he is worth the $8.4 million he would receive in 2017 had they done so.
Jones has all the motivation in the world to want to succeed this season. The Steelers not completely committed to having him on their roster in the future, former Steelers’ linebacker Greg Lloyd claiming a guy from his golf course could fill Jones’ role on defense, the constant criticism from Steelers’ Nation and the media. Its all there for him to use as a fuel for success.
For the former first-round draft pick, the sands in the hourglass of his career are slowly trickling to the bottom. Jones will turn 27 this fall, and the feeling of younger competition on his back is ever present. 2016 must be the famous “breakout” year for Jones that is constantly mentioned in sports media. If he is unable to do so there is a chance he could revive his career elsewhere, but he could easily find himself out of a job before his career ever truly begins.
For many in Steelers’ Nation, that is exactly what they want to happen. Chalk it up to a poor draft decision and start over. To be rid of the Jarvis Jones experiment for good and just draft another first round outside linebacker. This is what the Steelers need to avoid at all costs. If they can salvage something, anything, out of Jones that could make him a sure starter, they must do so.
There are some who still cling to hope that Jones can perform as he was advertised years ago, but that hope is slowly diminishing. Fans shouldn’t have to hope 38 year old James Harrison (who is still very much capable of playing) will return for “one more year” season after season because the current young talent cannot live up to expectations. Its time for Jones to rise to the occasion.
If anyone in the city of Pittsburgh believes in Jones, it is outside linebacker’s coach Joey Porter. Porter placed a lot of faith in his linebackers when he claimed that Jones can do something that many seriously doubt. Porter went on record saying this of Jones:
"“If he stays healthy, I still see him being a guy who can give you double-digit sacks. I really do.”"
Double-digit sacks? Jones has a total of six in his career. Placing such high expectations on him will no doubt be a joke among many who are ready for Jones to move on from the Steelers, but giving him a set number of sacks to record gives the linebacker a goal to achieve.
Porter knows all about recording double-digit sacks on the Steelers’ defense. He did so twice in 2000 and 2005 during his career in Pittsburgh. If Jones can even come close to double-digit sacks in 2016, it will be a far cry from his first three seasons in the NFL.
"“If we keep him injury free and let him play, the arrow’s pointed up.”"
Keeping Jones as healthy as possible will go a long way in helping him achieve the goal set by Porter. With the amount of blitzing that the Steelers’ defense does, combined with Jones playing more than the 55% of snaps he appeared in last year, we could see him record a respectable amount of sacks. It all comes down to Jones’ ability to stay on the field for the whole season.
"“There’s a lot of good football left in Jarvis Jones.”"
For the sake of the Steelers’ defense, the organization hopes they can kick start Jones’ career and keep him in Pittsburgh. If he leaves in free agency the Steelers lose out on the four years they spent developing Jones, and would likely commit another high round draft pick in search of his replacement. The Steelers need Jones to perform at a level that few expect of him.
Over the course of the offseason, Jones cut twenty pounds from his playing weight last season. This should help with his agility, something that has been criticized for multiple seasons. If he keeps up his strength and conditioning, Jones can come out of training camp as a favorite to bring the defense back to prominence in taking down the quarterback.
Jones displayed some of his speed and sense of the ball carrier in training camp this week. He was able to redirect his route and chase down the running back with relative ease. By no means does this equate to an All-Pro season for Jones, but it is nice to see him with drive and hustle in training camp.
The Pittsburgh Steelers need a strong performance from Jarvis Jones in 2016 to help solidify their linebacker corps for years to come. Jarvis Jones need a strong performance from himself to prove to his doubters throughout the league that he isn’t a bust, the Steelers made the right choice selecting him in 2013, and that he has the ability to play above his expectations.
It is only a matter of time until we see if Jones is truly up to the challenges he faces.