I'm super-excited about the Steelers first preseason game next Saturday evening vs. the Giants. Sure, like most football games in August, the excitement-level could wane as the game progresses, and guys named Roethlisberger quickly don their baseball caps, giving way to the second, third and sixth stringers, but I learned a long time ago that preseason football isn't about excitement over wins and losses. It's about excitement over breaking out the shiny new toys that were drafted in April, turning the power button to "on," and seeing what happens. Some toys are duds, others need a lot of time to warm-up, while still others are Maurkice Pouncey, a "pick and plug" recent Steelers draft choice, if there ever was one.
Pouncey is an offensive lineman, of course, and when he arrived on the scene three years ago, the standards at that position weren't exactly high around here, as No. 53 showed fairly quickly when it was apparent he was the team's best lineman by about the second day of OTAs.
But defense is another matter in Pittsburgh. As most astute Steelers fans are well-aware, a shiny new defensive toy often needs time to warm up before he can really go full-blast.
LaMarr Woodley was that kind of toy during his rookie year of 2007, recording 14 tackles and four sacks while learning how to play outside linebacker in Dick Lebeau's sophisticated defense after playing mostly defensive end in college.
Woodley wasn't the only one who needed some time in order to grasp Coach Dad's defensive wizardry. Lawrence Timmons, Ziggy Hood, Cameron Heyward and Keenan Lewis were just some of the recent Steelers draft choices who were given a "red shirt" early on, as they struggled to learn the defense (yes, I know I'm mixing metaphors, or whatever this is called).
Troy Polamalu even appeared lost and confused during his rookie campaign in 2003, and Lebeau wasn't even around then!
Whether it's been Noll, Dungy, Cowher, Capers, Lebeau, Butler or the very respected and tough coach Mitchell, we do defense around here, and if you're the new guy, it's easy to get lost because the bar has been set so remarkably high--thanks, Mean Joe!
With that in mind, it's probably foolish to expect outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, Pittsburgh's most recent first round selection, to succeed where others have failed, right?
Maybe. But if any recent Steelers draft choice has a chance to make an impact right away on defense, Jones might be it. Unlike Woodley and Timmons, Jones will be playing his natural position as a 3/4 outside linebacker, a position he excelled at for the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC, the predominant conference in college football.
I get more excited when I read the college scouting report on Jones. Take a look at this quote:
"Jones is a heat-seeking missile in pursuit. He is great at chasing down quarterbacks and running backs from behind. Jones is always cognizant of the ball and does a great job of slapping it out to force turnovers. He was a sack-fumble machine in college. While Jones does not have blazing speed, he is football fast and that was clear with how he dominated the SEC."
My favorite part of that quote is "heat-seeking missile," although, it could be "sack-fumble machine."
It's been a while since the Steelers defense had a guy who actually played like either one of those descriptions on a consistent basis, and that, more than anything, has caused a reduction in turnovers forced (20 a year ago), sacks (37 a year ago), defensive touchdowns (two over the last 34 games that have mattered) and overall "splash plays" since the 2010 AFC Championship Game.
History, the odds, and the fact that fourth year man Jason Worilds has opened training camp as the starter are all working against Jones doing the unthinkable and starting right out of the gate.
But while Jones' scouting report also indicates a need for him to get bigger and stronger so he can, among other things, improve his play against the run, he appears to already have all the other attributes necessary to be the next great Steelers linebacker, reminiscent of guys named Lambert, Ham, Lloyd, Porter and Harrison........not to put any pressure on the kid.
I hope Jones does beat the odds because, while Worilds was a solid contributor last year with 27 tackles and five sacks, if he really had the skill-set to be the next great linebacker in Pittsburgh, that should have surfaced by now.
I have no doubt that Jones has a ton to learn, but the raw ability is apparent, and he's about as close to a "pick and plug" defensive player as any rookie who has come along in recent years. The college resume speaks for itself, complete with dominance at the highest level.
Sophisticated defense or not, maybe this is the year the Steelers wind their shiny new toy up and let him loose during his freshman season (now you don't know where I'm coming from--just like Jarvis Jones).
Among many things, a dynamic defender is what the Steelers need if they're going to return to playoff prominence in the near-future; maybe Jones can be that guy, and hopefully that will begin to manifest itself in the first preseason game.
Here are some highlights to get you as excited as I am.
More from Behind the Steel Curtain:
- Training Camp Updates
- Wallace likely out vs. Cowboys
- Polamalu has 'contusion of birth certificate'
- Allen says rehab is "day-to-day"
- Steelers offense to be 'faster-paced than ever' in 2013
- Positive reviews of Steelers weight and conditioning in training camp suggests obvious problems in 2012
- Pat Kirwan sticking with his prediction of Steelers playing in AFC Championship game
- Steelers training camp recap: Day 9 sees physical camp starting to wear on players
- Larry Foote: Keith Butler giving tackles to Timmons no one sees
- Le'Veon Bell sitting out Saturday with ice on his left knee
- Steelers sign OT D'Anthony Batiste Saturday, place Embernate on injured reserve
- Steelers Saturday practice open thread
- Steelers will wear throwback jerseys in Week 11 vs. Detroit Lions