It was clear that after Jarvis Jones' rookie season he has to improve in a number of areas. Not uncommon for a 3-4 outside linebacker headed into his second season, he must become more confident and familiar within the Steelers defense, freeing up his mind to focus on the action at hand, as well as continuing to improve his pass rushing technique and repertoire.
However one aspect of Jones' play received the most scrutiny from the media and fans alike. Jones' lack of strength led to him being handled with apparent ease by most NFL left tackles. In fact, his only sack came against the Buffalo Bills, when he was matched up against a running back.
It was thus generally accepted that Jones needed to hit the weights, bulk up, eat some spinach or do whatever it is professional athletes do to get stronger.
Good news then, Jones has gotten stronger, just not any bigger.
As he told Scott Brown of ESPN, he's
"pretty much the same weight, 245 (pounds). That's where the coaches want me to play at. I really don't want to get much bigger. My whole thing is about getting stronger and being able to play with leverage and the right technique so that's what I've been focusing on."
He also told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post Gazzette that he has gotten stronger.
"As far as my weight, when I talked to Joey [Porter] and the coaching staff, they really don’t want me to put on a lot of weight. They don’t want me to lose my intangibles, my quickness and everything. It’s just pretty much about getting stronger. I have been getting stronger."
If Jones has indeed gotten stronger over the course of the off-season as he says, whilst maintaining his burst and quick first step that made him such a tantalising prospect in last years draft, then it would be very good news for a Steelers defense which badly needs some increased production from its outside linebackers.
However, strength isn't the only thing Jones has been working on this off-season. After beginning training in January for three months with former Georgia team mate and current Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston, Jones returned to Pittsburgh in April to train with new assistant coach Joey Porter and strength coach Garret Giemont.
It appears Porter, a former Steelers semi-legend himself, has taken Jones under his wing. Jones said "I’m glad I have someone like Joey to push me and motivate me and keep me working...‘I’m self-motivated, but a guy like him who played here and knows what it takes, a Pro Bowler and Super Bowl winner, to actually play the same side and everything … it's a blessing...he doesn't let us miss anything".
Under Porter's tutelage, Jones has placed an emphasis not only on getting stronger this off-season, but learning the finer points of playing outside linebacker for the Steelers, utilising skills other than strength to beat offensive lineman. Jones said "If I get you on the technique or leverage, no matter how strong I am or you are, I’m going to win. "
As far as becoming more comfortable within the Steelers defensive scheme, there also appears to be progress on that front. "It's not night and day, but it's a whole lot better actually knowing what's going on. I'm not out there second-guessing myself. I can line myself up as far as coming out and looking at the formation."
The biggest leap of progress a player makes is often between his 1st and 2nd year in the league and getting stronger, working on his technical ability and becoming more confident in his role appears to have Jarvis Jones on the right path. At least no one can ever fault him for effort.
As for his demeanour on and off the field, perhaps the notoriously passionate Porter can have an influence there as well. "The crazy cussing and stuff like that, he hasn't done that yet but you can tell his intensity, his passion for the game, he's more hands on than just talking to us and trying to show us how to do it....I'm more quiet, but he'll probably rub off on me though."