COMMENTARY | It seems as if one of the hardest things for Pittsburgh Steelers fans to agree on as training camp approaches is what role first round draft pick Jarvis Jones will play when the season begins. Will he be the starter at right outside linebacker, or will he sit behind Jason Worilds and step in sparingly for situational plays?
Even the two major Pittsburgh newspapers were at odds on this subject last week, with the Post-Gazette declaring in a headline on June 13th "Don't rule out rookie Linebacker Jarvis Jones starting for Steelers", while on June 12th the Tribune Review urged more caution with the headline "Steelers breaking in top pick Jones slowly".
This debate needs to end now. Point blank, Jones must start this season. History is against this happening, to be sure, as the last rookie to start at outside linebacker for the team was Jack Ham back in 1971. That was the start of a Hall of Fame career, though, and one can only hope that history repeats itself with Jones. Unless Jones shows during training camp that he is absolutely not prepared for starting duties, then he should be given every opportunity to be plugged in from day one at Latrobe. Here's why:
Worilds, entering his 4th season with the Black & Gold, has shown some promise during that span but has simply not done enough to make anyone feel comfortable with him as the starter. In fact, looking at his production from 2012 should elicit a cold fear at the thought of Worilds manning this most important of defensive positions.
Though he played in all 16 games, Worilds lined up for 422 of a possible 1007 defensive snaps last year, or 43%. He finished the season with 23 solo tackles, four assisted tackles and five sacks. Two of those sacks came against Cleveland in Week 12, so he was only able to reach the quarterback in three games during the entire season. In six of those games, he completely disappeared and was unable to register any meaningful stats whatsoever. Sorry, but this paints the picture of a guy not being around the ball enough, and not putting himself into a position to make plays. That's just not going to be good enough.
I get that he was used on a limited basis, and that his stat line might be reflective of this part-time work. However, 2012 was Worilds' season to step up and show the organization why they made him a second round pick and that he was ready and capable of being an impact player in this league. Injuries and diminished performances by James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley left the door wide open for Worilds to step through, and he still didn't make his presence felt.
Along those lines, another reason why Jones must start is to show that head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert can actually land an immediate impact player in the first round of the draft. Yes, in years past, the team rarely needed the high draft picks to come in and play right away. A loaded team, like the Steelers have had throughout the better part of the 2000s, can afford such luxuries. The 2013 team is not loaded, and one of the main reasons for that is lack of production -- whether from injury or ineffectiveness-- from such recent high draft picks as Ziggy Hood, Cameron Heyward and David DeCastro.
The NFL draft sets itself apart from other major professional sports in that the first couple of rounds are supposed to land the team major contributors. Granted, the first couple of picks in the NHL draft usually have a chance to play right away, but we're talking the first couple of players, not the first couple of rounds worth of players like in the NFL. And Jones was no ordinary player, at least not in college. He was an outstanding producer for Georgia, with the pedigree and apparent work ethic to prove he can be a top level player at the next level. More so, in my belief, than any of the previous first round picks by the team that I mentioned above.
Throw in the fact that the 2012 Steelers defense was the oldest in the league last year (I know, you're all getting tired of the Steelers D being old comments. I am too…but the truth remains), and the youthful exuberance that Jones could bring to the starting defense is appealing. So is the potential for Jones to ramp up the sacks this year. Pittsburgh finished 16th in the league in sacks last season, registering just 37 on the year. This number must improve, as the entire defense is predicated on bringing pressure from those outside linebacker spots.
We already have to keep our fingers crossed that Woodley returns to form and in shape after a disappointing 2012 campaign. Let's not have to hold our breath, too, that Jones delivers like we expect him too. Jones must start, and Jones will deliver.
Sheldon Rodgers is a Pittsburgh native and is the third in a fourth generation Black & Gold Family. He has been published in multiple newspapers and websites.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football