In the turbulent summer of 1969, some 400,000 people gathered at Max Yasgur's dairy farm in the Catskills for a festival of peace, love and music. I'm talking about Woodstock. Funny thing though, as years and hairlines fade, more and more people seem to remember attending that event than actually had. In fact, millions of our parents and their parents recall accounts of their dancing and swaying and what most of us shudder of thoughts of what possible acts of debauchery occurred at that monumental event.
In the spring of 2013, with the 17th overall selection in the NFL draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected a highly decorated linebacker out of the University of Georgia. The critics and pundits and local media applauded the choice, the Pittsburgh brass celebrated their luck and the vast majority of Steeler Nation metaphorically danced and swayed in the street. It was a glorious time. The defensive savior was on his way to Steeltown. Game on, Man!
Fast-forward to present day. The beginning of year 3 of the Jarvis Jones Experience is about to commence. But critics and pundits and local media can only release a dissatisfied "Mehhhhhhhh!". Steeler brass are saying all the right things even though the party has died down from a huge crowd to a few buzzed stragglers dreaming of a trip to the Arby's drive-thru. And Steeler Nation is no longer doing the "Dougie" (or whatever the dance of the day is) in the expressways of their minds.
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So, why am I bringing up Woodstock? Why have I forced you to conjure up images of your grandfather doing enough qualudes to re-kill Elvis or your mom making out with some hippie claiming to be Jerry Garcia's cousin?
It's simple really. Most of the people bragging about wearing tye-dyed shirts in upstate New York that historic weekend weren't even there, so you could rest easy. But mostly because the large number of fans not even claiming hindsight are emphatically preaching that they thought Jarvis Jones was a bust from the get-go. It's like watching a snack food commercial in 1986 and turning to your little brother and saying, "I just know deep down that that guy is a bad dude, but I sure do want some pudding". It probably didn't happen then and it wasn't all that common in 2013.
In the latest installment of "Rags to Riches", I will feature the enigmatic saga of one Jarvis Jerrell Jones and list some compelling arguments that I believe will be factors in his finally becoming the stalwart on defense that he was originally slated to be.
1) It's been hinted that 2015 is "make-or-break" for Sacman Jones
Year three has typically been the coming out year for young Steeler defenders. In recent history, guys like Cameron Heyward, Jason Worilds, Lawrence Timmons and Cortez Allen started seeing the field regularly and with more success in their third season in Pittsburgh.
For Jones, the loud whispers are saying that it most definitely needs to be this very instant. I agree that if it doesn't happen now, the team will start to move on. With Bud Dupree and Anthony Chickillo drafted in May and the presence of James Harrison, Arthur Moats, Howard Jones, Shawn Lemon and Jordan Zumwalt...talented options exist.
Jone's college career was pretty spectacular. With 28 sacks and forty tackles-for-loss over two seasons, the Georgia Bulldog earned two straight All-American honors. Hence, the rabid excitement surrounding his first-round grade and ultimate selection. But every team knows that great performances on a Saturday do not guarantee Sunday success.
A big problem for Jones has been his injury history. It's a definite understatement that a player's ability to stay healthy is vital to his success. Of course it's necessary to be on the field to maximize one's potential. In Jarvis' particular case, he had some injuries his rookie year, but still dressed for 14 games. Growing pains along with aches and pains kept him on the sidelines mostly. Jones got a sack in his first game as a pro, but never quite seemed to click.
His second year started in more promising of a manner. Jones tallied a sack against Cleveland in the first game and recorded a crushing sack on the behemoth Cam Newton in the third contest. The vicious hit resulted in a fumble, but also a dislocated wrist that required surgery. The recovery lasted most of the season, but Jones returned for two games in December and the playoff loss. Before the injury, Double-J had 14 tackles and 2 sacks in less than three games. The rust was never shaken off and he ended the year with only 4 more tackles than before he was hurt.
58 tackles, 3 sacks and 21 games-played are not anything to be excited about. However, Jones possesses a very quick first step to get around a tackle and great closing speed to get to the quarterback. Upon arrival, he can really pack a wallop. The tools are all there. He just needs to stay on the field. The conditioning that he participated in with James Harrison and his fellow linebackers in Arizona will be a big factor. Hopefully, it will lessen his susceptibility to injury. Also, It bulked him up close to 250 lbs., which will allow him to not get pushed out of the quarterback's lanes or overrun plays, as much. Plus, the aggressive mentality gained from exposure to James is key.
I think that this upgrade in conditioning will be a major factor in the resurrection of Jarvis Jones.
2) He has thrived in the face of adversity before
Jarvis Jones had an older brother that he idolized. Darcell Kitchens was four-years his senior. On Kitchens' 19th birthday, the two brothers were hanging out on a street near their mom's home when some friends arrived asking Kitchens to come celebrate his birthday with them. His older brother asked Jarvis if he wanted him to stay, but Jones encouraged his brother to go and have a good time. It was the last time he would ever see his brother alive, after he was murdered outside a bar during an argument.
The 15-year-old Jarvis Jones was absolutely traumatized. He couldn't shake the guilt and pain and blamed his decision for his brother's death. Jones went into a freefall and started skipping school, lashing out at teachers and finding himself banned from all county schools. His mother sensing the worst, granted guardianship to his AAU basketball coach and Jarvis went to live with him. There he committed to football at Carver High and things started to turn around for him. He accepted a scholarship far away from home on the West Coast.
While playing his eighth game as a freshman at USC, Jones injured his neck and never returned to Southern Cal due to concerns of spinal stenosis diagnosed after his injury. Young and 2,000 miles away from home, Jones was devastated at the news that he couldn't and shouldn't play football. He was lost. The Trojans released the 6-foot 2-inch and 245-pound Jones from his scholarship and he returned home to Georgia.
After a diligent rehab of his neck, University of Georgia doctors and independent specialists cleared Jones to play for the local 'Dawgs. He redshirted in 2010 and through hard work and determination, Jones dominated the SEC and declared for the draft after his junior year.
At one point, Jones was a potential top pick overall. But a sub-par 40 time and the fear of the spinal stenosis repercussions dropped Jones out of the top ten discussion.
After the tragedy of losing his brother and thinking he would never play ball again, Jarvis Jones has proven that he could overcome adversity and has shown the mindset that he can overcome adversity again. Skepticism from sports writers and impatient fans seem to pale in comparison to what the 25-year old Jones has been through.
3) The Two J's
Just because a person is under the tutelage of a team great and being challenged by another, doesn't necessarily constitute having that greatness rub off on you. But in the same manner in which Harry Potter was mentored by Albus Dumbledoore and pushed by Professor Snape, Jarvis has Joey and James. And like the young wizard, Jones needs to embrace the resources that are bringing presented to him and must strive to learn the lessons of their glory to achieve his own. I think he will and I think these guys will be a huge help.
Porter is obvious. He's the outside linebackers coach. Porter could hang his hat on the success of Jones. Porter has already come out and praised his young pass rusher calling him one of the better linebackers in the league when he is in there. Now, that could be just pure lip service to pump up a young player who has been struggling, but Porter was brought in with bringing Jarvis along and I would bet making the Georgia Bulldog a big star would be a top priority of the former star at linebacker. In fact, it would be a major feather in the man they call J. Peezy's cap.
Then there's Harrison. How would he be a help? Isn't he fighting for a job of his own?
Here's the deal. His job is no way in jeopardy for 2015. But the plan is to keep James on a 25 snap-or-so count and he knows it. But if poor play or injury befalls the young linebackers, then Deebo would see more time. Coaches have deemed it an open competition.
Harrison's presence is inspiring. His work habits are becoming legendary and he organizes the other OLB's to work diligently in the offseason. A lot of people forget the fact that Jones and Harrison have barely played together at all. Because of No. 95's wrist injury in Carolina, No. 92 got the call to return from retirement and they only played together in three contests overall.
You can bet that Harrison will be pushing Jones to succeed. And I guarantee that there is a lot that Jones can pick up from playing on the same squad as the intense veteran.
4) Still too early for the "b" word
We are so quick to label in this day and age. As sports fans, we crave and demand instant gratification. There is very little patience to wait for a player to adjust to the next level and thrive. So, What is actually the appropriate amount of time that needs to lapse to call a player "a bust"?.
If a player is less than mediocre after three years and can't contribute to the team, I would agree that he is indeed a bust and probably going to get struggle to make the team.
The Steelers have had true busts like Darryl Sims in '85, Huey Richardson in '91 and Jamain Stephens in '96, each of who didn't last long in Pittsburgh or the pros, in general.
If health allows, year three could be the year that Jones makes his mark and showcases his true talents. I believe in 2015, Jarvis Jones sheds the "b" word and has us dancing in the streets again and partying like it's 1969.