NFL DRAFT: Steelers select linebacker with first pick
PITTSBURGH — When Jarvis Jones slogged through the 40-yard dash in a pedestrian 4.9 seconds during Georgia’s Pro Day, a red flag went up to NFL scouts.
Just not the scouts that work for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Where some saw a problem, the Steelers saw an opportunity. General manager Kevin Colbert didn’t need his stopwatch to know the All-American linebacker can play.
And when Jones remained on the board when the Steelers took their turn in the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday night, Colbert didn’t hesitate to grab the player he believes is the next great linebacker at a franchise that churns them out with regularity.
“When he ran that 4.9, we were happy,” Colbert said. “We knew we had a chance.”
The Steelers most certainly had a need after cutting 2008 Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison in a salary cap move last month. Jones, 23, understands he can’t replace one of the most intimidating players in the game, but that doesn’t mean it would hurt to try.
“I think we both play relentless,” Jones said. “You can tell we’re both passionate. We’re ballhawks. We’re impact players. I mean we make plays when they need to be made.”
Jones made plenty of them in two years at Georgia after transferring from USC. He racked up 28 sacks with the Bulldogs, tied for the third-highest career total in school history. He also registered 45.5 tackles for loss and caused nine fumbles.
“He can run, he can chase the ball,” Colbert said. “Most importantly, he can get after the passer.”
Pittsburgh’s defense could use a little snarl. Though the Steelers finished with the league’s top-ranked defense in 2012, they only registered 37 sacks — tied for 15th — and forced just 20 turnovers. The inability to put consistent pressure on the quarterback was a major problem, one Jones will try to help solve.
“I just want to come in and play,” Jones said. “They need an outside linebacker, and I (am) just so happy to be a part of this organization. They’ve always been known for their defense, and that’s something that I take pride in.”
Though Jones is a dozen years younger than Harrison, he does come in with his own health concerns. He was diagnosed with spinal stenosis — a narrowing of the spinal column — during his freshman year at USC but insists it will not be an issue going forward.
“All that (is) over with,” he said.
Colbert spoke at length about the small number of impact players in the draft but thinks Jones is among that group. Jones was “off the charts” during his interview with the Steelers, and though he’s a rookie, coach Mike Tomlin believes Jones’ nomadic college career and medical scare has given him a veteran’s perspective on the game.
“He’s been to the West Coast and back and he’s dealt with an injury that could’ve potentially put his career in question,” Tomlin said. “He’s been through a lot.”
Jones will certainly get an opportunity to make the move from rookie to veteran quickly. Harrison’s departure leaves Jason Worilds as the only proven right outside linebacker on the roster. Worilds has 10 sacks in three seasons but has yet to prove he can produce on a consistent basis.
That was never a problem for Jones, who collected 14.5 sacks last fall at Georgia to set a school record for sacks in a single season. He seemed to get better as the year went on, finishing his college career with eight tackles, two sacks and a pass breakup in a 45-31 win over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl.
Coming off an 8-8 season, the Steelers have plenty of holes to fill. While there is a pressing need at running back, wide receiver and tight end, they opted to go for a player who they hope can wreak havoc in offensive backfields for the next decade.
“He plays with a certain disposition that we value, a certain demeanor that we value,” Tomlin said. “Whether he’s making a tackle or confronting a block, he does it in a manner that we appreciate. He’ll fit in great with our group.”