OLBs Howard Jones and Vic So’oto have combined on big plays in each of the first two preseason games. They’ve already done it twice in two games. Would a third time be the charm for Vic So’oto and/or Howard Jones?
Both are competing for a spot on the Steelers’ roster as a backup at outside linebacker. Their causes have been bolstered, potentially, by their ability to repeatedly find the football. And their ability to find the football has been a job they’ve been doing in tandem.
On Aug. 9 against the New York Football Giants, So’oto got his hand on a ball thrown by quarterback Ryan Nassib to running back Michael Cox on a third-and-8 from the New York 44-yard line. When there was no immediate whistle blown by any of the officials, Jones picked up the loose ball and darted 28 yards into the Giants’ end zone, a play that gave the Steelers a 20-16, fourth quarter lead. A subsequent review conformed the call on the field that it was a lateral and therefore a free ball.
Then, last Saturday night against Buffalo, So’oto sacked Bills quarterback Jeff Tuel and stripped the ball free on third-and-4 from the Buffalo 35-yard line. Jones recovered and this time ran it 19 yards to the 1-yard line. Following a keeper by quarterback Bruce Gradkowski to center the ball, Shaun Suisham kicked a last-play field goal that gave the Steelers a 19-16 triumph.
“Just throwing him up some assists and trying to win games,” So’oto said of what’s been happening with Jones.
Those aren’t the only assists benefitting Jones so far this preseason.
“I’m learning just from the older linebackers, Chris Carter, Jarvis (Jones), (Terrence) Garvin, all the guys,” Jones said. “I learn from them and do what they tell me.”
So’oto (6-foor-3, 263 pounds) is a third-year pro with seven career NFL games on his resume. He first entered the NFL with Green Bay as an undrafted rookie out of BYU in 2011. So’oto has since spent time on the practice squads and/or active rosters of the Packers, Raiders, Redskins, Cardinals and Saints.
Jones (6-4, 238) played defensive end at Shepherd, an NCAA Division II institution in West Virginia. The Steelers signed him as an undrafted rookie this spring and had to survive what amounted to a competitive recruiting process to do it, such was the interest in Shepherd around the NFL after the draft due to his physical skill-set and upside assuming he’d be able to transition to outside linebacker.
So’oto isn’t discounting his chances to stick with the Steelers, but nor is he counting on splash plays to make that happen.
“I think everyone in a helmet and cleats out here has a chance to make it,” So’oto said. “I don’t think one play or one turnover will sway the coaches’ decisions either way. I think it’s more about practice day in and day out and being able to come out here and be conditioned and make plays and just do your best.”
Jones likewise is taking nothing for granted. But he also perceives himself to be in the mix, still competing for a spot.
“I feel pretty good,” Jones said. “I listen pretty well to the coaching. It’s up to them.”
Thursday night’s preseason game in Philadelphia will be critical to both would-be Steelers. But should a third So’oto-to-Jones turnover occur, So’oto has a theory as to where the bulk of the credit ought to be distributed.
“I don’t think you can recover a fumble without it being forced,” he said.