This is the second installment of my two part series about some early Steelers training camp surprises; one each for the offense and the defense. My first article was about training camp sensation WR Rico Bussey Jr. This article will focus on defensive standout OLB Jamir Jones, who has seemingly came out of nowhere to make an unexpectedly positive initial impression.
Jamir Jones is a classic 3-4 outside linebacker, both in physical size and athleticism. He is 6'3" and his weight is anybody's guess. He was listed at 255 lbs. during his collegiate career at Notre Dame, 247 lbs. when signing with the the Houston Texans after going undrafted in 2020, and 237 lbs. while taking part in Notre Dame's 2021 pro day. He reportedly ran a 4.71 forty at the lower weight, which coupled with his overall athleticism scores, apparently impressed Kevin Colbert and the Steelers enough to sign him to a contract as a UDFA. For what it's worth, the Steelers official depth chart list his weight at 255 lbs. once again.
I am not sure if Jones was a late bloomer, or the victim of some tough luck by being surrounded by a talented cast of defenders who happened to be better fits for the Fighting Irish's defensive scheme. Either way, he wasn't able to garner regular snaps on defense until some injuries cleared the way for him to become a starter in his senior season. Even as a starter, he achieved some rather underwhelming production. Numbers that didn't quite jive with the potential his athleticism would seem to suggest.
Jones appears to possess above average size and strength for a Steelers outside linebacker, traits necessary to set an effective edge against the running game. He has reportedly been doing just that in the early portion of camp, along with dominating the backs on backers drills. Jones is an extremely raw prospect, understandable considering his limited usage at Notre Dame. That being said, he suddenly finds himself competing for a spot on the depth chart.
He was considered a good teammate and high character guy while playing for the Fighting Irish, and proved to be a fast learner when he finally got the chance to compete thanks to his solid football IQ. Jones has exceeded expectations thus far in the early stages of training camp, at a position of possible need for the Steelers.
The Steelers have an impressive Big 3 at outside linebacker: T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, and Melvin Gordon. That's as good a group of OLBs that you will find in the NFL. However, the Steelers learned the hard way how quickly what is considered solid depth can change in a single snap on the field. The Steelers realize that they could benefit from going four or even five deep on the depth chart. That leaves three guys fighting it out for possibly two roster spots: Jamir Jones, Quincy Roche, and Cassius Marsh.
Roche is a uniquely skilled pass rush specialist for a sixth round selection, while Marsh is the experienced veteran who quickly and easily bonded with his defensive brethren after being brought in late last season. Roche has an impressive arsenal of pass rushing moves and counters in his repertoire for any edge, much less a sixth round selection. He needs to add functional strength and better technique to ever improve setting the edge against the run, but the same could be said about Marsh. Based on the early reports coming out of camp; coupled with his listed strengths and weaknesses coming out of college, it sounds like Jones already has a leg up in that aspect on the competition.
The reason why I am so excited to hear about Jones standing out and making positive first impressions at camp is because he is so raw and inexperienced. He has far more room for growth and improvement to his game than his competition for a roster spot. Roche was a collegiate standout for two teams actually, and is definitely closer to maxing out his physical abilities than Jones. At this point in his career, Marsh is who he is and that's all he will ever be. Jones' athleticism suggest he has the potential to become so much more.
Let's put it this way. If Jones can come into camp and consistently make attention grabbing plays as a extremely raw and inexperienced edge, what is he capable of after some hard work and good coaching? From all reports, the work ethic is there. At this point in his development, he doesn't even know how to effectively utilize his hands to disengage from blockers. He is still turning heads so to speak with extremely limited technique for the position, no doubt added by his bend and balance around the edge. I am excited to see what the young man is capable of after being taught these highly coachable techniques.
The Steelers realize the need to constantly be feeding their talent pipeline. It benefits their efforts in this regard greatly to fill their depth positions with talented, young, inexpensive personnel. Players like Rico Bussey Jr. and Jamir Jones fit that description perfectly.
While watching Thursday night's HOF game, pay close attention to these young men when they are on the field. You may just be witnessing the beginning of something special. You never know. Good luck, gentlemen! Go Steelers!