Jarvis Jones represents a new stage in the progression of the 3-4 defense, not just for the Steelers, but for the NFL as a whole.
The Steelers are an example of how many NFL teams try to fill in their outside linebacker positions on draft day; both LaMar Woodley and Jason Worilds are larger players who played as defensive ends in college but were drafted to play outside linebacker. The reason being that they lack the size to effectively fill in as run-stopping gap fillers that a defensive end in an NFL 3-4 defensive scheme would require for effecitveness. The change in position requires an adjustment that sometimes takes years to sink in for players who are made to do it, some more than others.
Woodley became a significant portion of the Steelers defense in only his second year as the Steelers won their sixth Super Bowl. Worilds is going into his fourth season and is now struggling for a spot on the starting roster against a rookie.
However, that rookie is Jarvis Jones - the highest drafted Steelers outside linebacker since Huey Richardson in 1991 (Lawrence Timmons notwithstanding, given his move inside). Jones is a natural 3-4 linebacker who played in the system while at the University of Georgia. His adjustment period will not require as many changes in style and methods as it would for Jason Worilds.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin sees this as a clear advantage going forward for the 17th overall draft pick, both for Jones and the team, as Jones will already have the experience and 'perspective' of a natural outside linebacker.
Tomlin also noted that as time progresses, more players like Jones will emerge from the NCAA as more Division I college football teams adopt the 3-4 scheme. Jones doesn't need to learn how to not use a three-point stance and stand upright going into a play, which is a big difference in the technical strategy of a pass rusher for what approaches, moves and strengths they can have to their advantage when going up against an offensive tackle or a tight end.
All the indications of training camp have been positive for Jones. He has been noted for major success in the 'backs on backers' drills and has been seen swatting passes at the line of scrimmmage.
It made sense to be skeptical as to how much real playing time he would get in his rookie season, as many recent Steeler greats, such as Troy Polamalu, took at least a learning curve year before becoming a force for Dick LeBeau's defense. But if Jones does easily adapt to the position throughout training camp and going into Steelers' preseason, there might just be a rookie starting on the Steelers defensive depth chart when the season opens up in Heinz Field against the Titans Sept. 8.
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