Jarvis Jones was walking toward me with his most Marley-like outfit yet.
The Steelers' young outside linebacker is a fan of the late reggae poet Bob Marley, and today, with a wide-brim hat and relaxed and loose clothing, Jones was looking particularly chill.
That's his M.O., by the way. And he pulls it off with dreads that haven't been cut since his senior year in high school and a laid-back demeanor that contrasts sharply with the violent hands, sudden inside bolt, and acrobatic body control he put on display while sacking Eli Manning in his first preseason game this year.
"Nice sack," I told the chilled one.
"Thanks, man. I really appreciate it," he said. "I tried to tell you guys I'm better than last year."
He did. He tried so hard to explain his improvement while at the same time trying to remain humble. And explaining anything to the media is not Jones' preferred activity.
Not that he's James Harrison about this. He's just uncomfortable in the glare. You've probably watched him perspire as interview sessions run too long. But as uncomfortable as he was, Jones repeatedly hammered home the same theme that day early in camp: I'm just going to keep chopping wood because I want my actions to come before my words.
Last Saturday night they did. Violently. Very un-chill of Jarvis, too.
"He's gotten a lot better," Kelvin Beachum confirmed. "He's really understanding the game even more."
Beachum, of course, is the Steelers' left tackle. He knows something about being a vital piece to a Steelers' puzzle. He came in a year ago and stole one of the most important offensive jobs in football in his second season. Things have gone so well that few even noticed Beachum anymore. You like that in a left tackle.
But Beachum noticed Jones' increased strength and improved technique the first day of spring practice.
"He got a lot better with his hands. I was very surprised," Beachum said. "At OTAs he got me with a double-arm swipe the first day. I was like, 'All right, you've got some new tricks in the bag.'
"Well, we got here and he's showing me some other hand usage. I'm like, 'OK, we've got some stuff working." So it's been a good battle when he's in. Having him in there working the hand usage, him with the speed just presents a lot of different problems compared to other rushers because he's fast enough and sudden enough to really make you look bad. You saw that in the game, very sudden. You didn't think he was coming inside, but he was inside and the guy barely got his hands on him."
Jones didn't beat some tight end or running back. He beat fifth-year tackle Charles Brown, the Giants' starter. Jones smashed him with those "heavy hands," bolted inside, was juked by Manning but recovered by twisting his body and grabbing Manning by the ankles.
It was the perfect start for a first-round pick who had only one sack in 14 games (eights starts) last season.
Defensive coordinator and eternal encourager Dick LeBeau begged the media to be patient, that Jones was struggling only because he was a rookie, and that rookies never, ever start in LeBeau's complex scheme.
"He learned from those growing pains, especially as much as he played last year," Beachum said.
And Jones also learned that he needed to get to work, to chop wood.
It showed in the first preseason game. And if he can keep it up, the Steelers will have a giant piece of their revamped defense's puzzle in place.
"Joey's making him so much better," Beachum said about new assistant coach Joey Porter. "He's making that whole outside linebacker group so much better. He's instilling a great mindset in them, a great work ethic. The pass-rush moves that he had and when he played are kind of implemented, so there's like a little Joey in all of them right now. It's been real fun, real competitive."
Jones may not be able to have as much fun Saturday when the Steelers host the Buffalo Bills in their second preseason game. He's been in and out of the lineup with a tight groin that the Steelers do not want to rush. They're counting on him too much.
So until then, Jarvis will keep chopping wood. And staying chill.