Hall of Famer
Jarvis Jones finding his place with Steelers
By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH — Jason Worilds is not James Harrison. Neither is Jarvis Jones, Chris Carter or anybody else the Pittsburgh Steelers decide to put at right outside linebacker this season.
Linebackers coach Keith Butler doesn't necessarily think that's a bad thing. What Harrison's potential replacements lack in snarl they make up for in options.
"I've never had a situation like this where I can play three different guys and have confidence in all of them that they're going to be pretty good," Butler said Wednesday.
They'll have to be if they want to take the field for a team that perennially sends out one of the best defenses in the NFL. While Butler cautioned it's way too early to figure out the depth chart, he's confident the dropoff without Harrison won't be significant.
"We've got some guys who can play," Butler said.
And it may take using Worilds, Carter and Jones to fill in for the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Worilds finished with five sacks in spot duty last season. Jones, taken 17th overall in the draft, led the nation in sacks last fall while playing for Georgia. Carter, when healthy, might be the best of the three in pass coverage.
Though Jones is considered the future, Carter and Worilds understand there's a chance in the present to make an impact. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's defense can be difficult to pick up for young players no matter how talented they are. Worilds and Carter have paid their dues in that fashion and they know it's time for them to start producing.
The 25-year-old Worilds spent his first three seasons bouncing between the right side and left side. There are no such issues now, allowing him to get comfortable for the first time.
"The main thing for me this year is to finally have a home," Worilds said. "In the past, I've worked at both sides, and I never knew from one day to the next where I would play. This year, I've worked almost exclusively on the right side, and having that craft to hone has really helped me out."
Worilds will likely need to settle in quickly if he wants to hold off Jones. He played well at times while filling in as Harrison recovered from lingering knee issues last fall and picked up two sacks in a loss to Cleveland. The way Worilds looks at it, the more reps he gets, the better his chances of sticking around.
"I've always been the type of player where I learn better if I can go through it," he said.
The Steelers finished No. 1 in total defense in 2012 but were a middling 15th in sacks. Generating more pressure — and hopefully creating more turnovers in the process — has been a point of emphasis during the offseason. Though LeBeau commands his players to be versatile, there's little doubt the best way to stay at the top of the depth chart is getting into the backfield and creating havoc.
Chaos happened to be Jones' specialty at Georgia, where his 14.5 sacks were the most in the nation last fall. He has proven better than advertised covering running backs and tight ends, leading Butler to joke Jones is Pittsburgh's "shutdown linebacker."
That's not why the Steelers spent a first-round pick on Jones, though. And while LeBeau allows Jones will be a "pretty good player" if the coaches don't "mess him up" there's also no big rush to get him on the field. Jones was able to freelance at Georgia, relying on his talent to cover up mistakes. That won't be tolerated in the NFL.
"He doesn't exactly know what we require from him," Butler said. "It's not like in college, even though he played outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. It doesn't mean he can be plugged right in."
Jones is hardly lagging behind. The transition is just that difficult, something Carter and Worilds know all too well.
"Nobody comes in here and picks things up right away," Carter said. "That's just how it is. You look at Jason Worilds, even James Harrison. He didn't get going right away, but look at how he developed."
Carter is spending most of his time on the left side behind LaMarr Woodley but remains an option on the right side in certain situations. And even with Harrison gone, Carter believes the overall depth has improved.
"I also think we have a better linebacker corps this year, as the younger guys got more experience, and with who they brought in," Carter said. "So, that's a good thing for the team. That gives us a lot of weapons on defense, and we need all we can get to win a championship."
Something that tends to happen with regularity in Pittsburgh. The echoes of the Steel Curtain defense that won four titles in the 1970s still resonate. Worilds, in fact, wore a t-shirt honoring one of the NFL's all-time defenses on Wednesday.
"They were the best," Worilds said, "and I want this defense to be the best."
Kovacevic: Steelers’ D growing baby teeth
By Dejan Kovacevic
Published: Thursday, June 13, 2013
There isn't much definitive to be discerned from the Steelers' minicamp that broke up Thursday in the South Side. It's “football in shorts,” as Mike Tomlin routinely dismisses.
And yet, there is something to be said for the coach wrapping it up as “a very positive offseason;” for the newly formed fist-bumping duo of Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley; for mostly good health news; and, really, for a generally upbeat feel. If there's any residual pouting over 8-8 or all those prominent departures, it was even harder to detect than the word “transition.”
Which is wonderful, right?
Look, let's face it: This is a flawed team, if only because of the uncertainty on offense. Roethlisberger will be without Mike Wallace and Heath Miller, the latter at season's start. Running back is a crapshoot. The tackles are too green for comfort.
But let's face this, too: The NFL's No. 1-ranked defense could be better, mathematically daunting as that sounds.
And if you ask me, nothing will mean more to the Steelers than resetting some snarl to that defense, than regaining their intimidating identity.
“It's our job to be Pittsburgh Steelers, and we know what that means,” new nose tackle Steve McLendon said. “One man passes that to the next and, like Coach says, the standard is the standard.”
The standard last season was mediocrity in most phases except for points and yards allowed, hence the defense's ranking. But even there, the actual product performed abysmally in the areas of interceptions, fumbles forced and recovered, sacks … pretty much anything that could have led to a takeaway more often than, oh, once a month.
That's going to change, I think, in part because of three players Brett Keisel playfully called the Steelers' “fresh faces” on defense: McLendon, Jarvis Jones and Cortez Allen.
McLendon's limited usage by Tomlin last season was among his most maddening decisions. Time after time, he'd make some big splash play or other, only to give way immediately to Casey Hampton. The numbers are jarring: In only 139 snaps, McLendon recorded two sacks, two other tackles for losses and two forced fumbles.
Now, Big Snack gives way to Big Mac.
“No, sir,” McLendon gently said. “I'm not Casey Hampton. I just have to be me.”
Right. Hampton's excellence in the 3-4 came from absorbing the principal point of attack by taking up two, even three offensive linemen and allowing his linebackers to roam free. McLendon will be asked to do some of that, but his game is built on his own attack and, as if to underscore that, he's 15 pounds lighter than last season at 320.
Dick LeBeau loved Hampton like a son, but he'll adjust. The best defender last season was Lawrence Timmons, and having two charging threats up the middle opens up all kinds of fun from the outside.
Which means Jones, the No. 1 draft pick.
Yeah, I know the coaches and even fellow linebackers are downplaying his chance of starting in James Harrison's old spot. But I'm not buying it. You don't label a guy as one of the handful of “special” players in the draft, then have him watch Jason Worilds from the sideline. If Jones can square up a wonky hamstring, he'll win the job in Latrobe.
Like McLendon, Jones is keeping quiet.
“My only expectation is to show everyone my best,” Jones said. “I'm humbled to have a chance with this team.”
Allen has been part of it more than McLendon or Jones, but he, too, is getting his first big chance. And he might have, in the short term, the highest upside of all.
Pro Football Focus, a specialist in film study, this week hyped up Allen as the Steelers' “secret superstar.” That's heady praise, but Allen's ability to get a hand on one of every seven balls thrown his way earned it. So did those stirring five takeaways in the final two games filling in for Ike Taylor on the outside.
It was enough that the team let Keenan Lewis and his zero picks — despite 23 passes defensed! — walk with no offer.
Allen, another unassuming sort, won't even concede that he'll start. But he'll also add, “I believe I have the ability to make plays.”
The kind that count most.
Jarvis Jones thought he’d be a Brown, happy to fall to Pittsburgh
Posted by Michael David Smith on June 27, 2013, 8:48 PM EDT
Heading into the NFL draft, Jarvis Jones believed the Browns liked him with the sixth overall pick. He ended up going 17th overall to the Steelers. In the first half of the first round, a drop of 11 spots will translate to about $7 million less on his rookie contract.
But Jones says he’s OK with that.
Jones told ESPNCleveland.com that the Browns told him they wanted him, but he believes they passed on him because of concerns about his medical history and a disappointing workout at the Scouting Combine. Jones, however, said he is glad to play for the Steelers.
“I think I fell to a great organization,” Jones said. “I’m blessed to be there. It’s a great opportunity for me and I’m loving it. There’s nothing like playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers. You can feel the intensity when you walk into that building. Being a part of this defense is going to mean a lot to me. It’s all about winning.”
If history is any guide, Jones has a better chance of winning in Pittsburgh than in Cleveland.
Jarvis Jones following in Ben Roethlisberger's footsteps
By Neal Coolong on Jun 28 2013
USA TODAY Sports
Cleveland drafts in the top 10 frequently, but when they draft sixth, and pass on a future Steelers pick, it doesn't work out well. Maybe that will be the case of Jarvis Jones and Barkevious Mingo.
It was considered one of the deepest top 10 classes in recent memory, and time has proven that notion to be correct. Cleveland had a bevy of options at that point, but ultimately, chose the ultra-athletic Kellen Winslow Jr., a tight end from Miami, and son of Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow.
Meanwhile, a young Ben Roethlisberger seethed. Already having been snubbed from the first overall pick and the subsequent trade that would send top pick Eli Manning and fourth pick Phillip Rivers to New York and San Diego respectively, it meant Roethlisberger was the odd quarterback out of the top 10.
He fell all the way to 11th, where the Steelers were drafting at their highest spot since 2000 and the second-highest position in two decades.
The Steelers wasted little time in picking Roethlisberger, who did not smile upon lifting his Steelers jersey for the cameras. It wasn't that he wasn't pleased to be playing for the Steelers, it was the early rage of not being taken higher. Such things drive a supremely competitive player.
Roethlisberger would later say he felt Cleveland was going to take him. He grew up two hours outside Cleveland, and around plenty of Browns fans.
Since then, the Steelers are 15-2 against the Browns, with Roethlisberger only having played in one of those losses. Cleveland hasn't qualified for the playoffs while Roethlisberger's Steelers have won two Super Bowls.
Recently, Steelers 2013 first round pick Jarvis Jones spoke with ESPN Cleveland's Tony Grossi. Jones felt the Browns were going to select him with the sixth overall pick, but Cleveland, now operating under general manager Mike Lombardi and team president Joe Banner, went with LSU's Barkevious Mingo.
I sense a trend here.
Writes Grossi, "Jones said the Browns told him they wanted him. But concerns about a stenosis problem persisted, despite positive medical checks at the combine, and Jones' poor pre-draft workouts caused him to fall to the Steelers at the No. 17 pick."
This could just as easily mean the Browns would have looked at Jones later in the first round or even in the second, as few would have put Jones at No. 6 overall. But if it's the motivation Jones needs to be the hunter and not the hunted, then so be it.
It worked well for Roethlisberger.