You Sack The QB, You Play

Mike Prisuta talked to Dick LeBeau, among others, about the chances of rookie Jarvis Jones starting this season for the Steelers.

Jarvis Jones was only hours into his St. Vincent College experience when he established a firm grasp of which way the wind is blowing.

"I'm trying not to be caught up in all the hype," Jones maintained.

"I just want to come in and play football and not let the pressure get to me because everybody's saying I'm going to start, they want me to start and all that. Our coaches know what's best for our team. When the opportunity comes I want to be ready for it."

That's the general consensus, but the sentiment might not quite be as universal as Jones suggests. Jason Worilds, for example, probably doesn't want Jones to start. And defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, in a perfect world, would prefer Jones didn't start.

"I think the more veteran you are the better it is," LeBeau said.

Still, it's a short leap in the quest for quick fixes after an 8-8 campaign to embrace a pass-rushing, first-round draft pick as a potential savior. So the kid is perceptive.

He might also have to be patient beyond Sept. 8 against Tennessee. Outside linebackers simply don't walk off campus and into the Steelers' defensive huddle. James Harrison didn't. Neither did LaMarr Woodley, Joey Porter or Jason Gildon. But those guys weren't first-round draft picks, either. And they didn't come to Pittsburgh already schooled in the zone-blitz techniques and terminology they'd be asked to master with the Steelers. Those details have put the brakes on rookie linebackers inside and outside ever since Kendrell Bell – like Jones, a Georgia product – in 2001.

"Our playbook is big," veteran inside linebacker Larry Foote confirmed. "They throw a whole bunch at you and they demand that you learn it. There are no scholarships here, you have to learn it. Our playbook is huge."

Large enough that even veteran inside linebacker James Farrior struggled with it in his first year in Pittsburgh after coming over as a free agent following five seasons with the New York Jets.

"He wasn't that good his first year," Foote assessed. "I remember he was competing with John Fiala just for the simple fact it took him a long time to pick it up. It's a different system."

Working in Jones' favor is the relative proliferation of that system's signature, the zone-blitz, across the NFL and into the college ranks. Based on what he did at Georgia, Jones isn't being asked to speak Chinese at St. Vincent.

"I think the college kids are getting better, the rookies, because colleges are picking up our style of play a little more," Foote said. "You see everybody running fire-zones.

"Early in my career, my competition (for playing time with the Steelers), they couldn't pick it up. They didn't know what a fire-zone was."

LeBeau maintains the Steelers have had "some very young starters" in his tenure. "Particularly our linebackers, it takes them a year to come along, usually," he said. "Lawrence Timmons played a lot his first year. I guess you wouldn't call him a starter but he actually had a tremendous amount of snaps. We've had a continued infusion of young people."

Jones was infused into "Backs-on-Backers" on Monday afternoon and gave a good accounting of himself in his first day in professional pads. Jones went 2-and-2 against No. 2 pick Le'Veon Bell and 3-for-5 overall.

Prior to that, Jones had impressed the Steelers with beyond-his-years poise and humility, as well as with flashes of his first-round ability.

So he's off to a great start.

"I've already seen some of the things I've seen on tape as a college player," LeBeau said. "I think he has an excellent chance to be productive and be productive fairly early."

But can he start?

"I have no idea," Foote said. "I think we're both going to find out at the same time. We're going to see it right before us. It depends on what Worilds does, also, and Chris Carter.

"The good thing about that position, you sack the quarterback you play, it's just that simple."

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