Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has often said sacks aren’t the only measure of how much pressure a defense — or a defensive player — puts on opposing quarterbacks.
But, man, that had to look good to a lot of people in the Steelers organization when Jarvis Jones overwhelmed Bills quarterback EJ Manuel with a burst of speed and recorded his first NFL sack on Sunday.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Jones said after the Steelers’ 23-10 win over the Bills. “I’m a pass-rusher so when you’re a pass-rusher and you don’t have any sacks people are looking at you like ‘What kind of pass-rusher is he?’ I think I should have had like two other sacks, but it was a good start.”
If nothing else it lifts something that had to be weighing on the rookie outside linebacker.
Sacks came in bunches for Jones while at Georgia even as he played in an elite conference such as the SEC.
His production in college – Jones had 14.5 sacks his senior season on the way to consensus first-team All-America honors – established the 6-foot-2, 245-pounder as one of the most ready-made players in the 2013 NFL draft.
And just one game into the season Jones became the first rookie starter at outside linebacker since the Steelers switched to a 3-4 defense in the early 1980s.
Of course, little this season for the Steelers has followed a tidy script, and that includes the progress of their rookies.
Running back Le’Veon Bell was sidelined early with knee and foot injuries. Wide receiver Markus Wheaton missed four games after surgery on his broken right pinkie. Safety Shamarko Thomas became the latest first-year player to go down with an injury as he hurt his ankle in the win over the Bills.
Jones hasn’t been immune to injuries as he missed a game after suffering his first-ever concussion. He has also had to overcome something else: a demotion.
Jones officially lost his starting job a couple of weeks ago when the Steelers moved Jason Worilds ahead of him on the depth chart at right outside linebacker.
“For me, when I was moved to second on the depth chart, it just made me work harder,” Jones said. “I’m not just a sitting duck on the sidelines. I’m watching the game and looking at different techniques and trying to help my teammates.”
That approach to his benching has been a refreshing one, and the Steelers remain confident they made the right call when they took Jones with the 17th overall pick of the 2013 draft.
No less an authority than LeBeau has twice said he expects big things from Jones and that he has been encouraged by the progress the latter has made.
The one thing the Steelers can do without when it comes to Jones: the unnecessary roughness penalty he received during the opening kickoff of the second half, something he heard about from coach Mike Tomlin when he returned to the sidelines.
Jones atoned for that penalty in the fourth quarter when he sacked Manuel for a 7-yard loss.
“It was just bad timing and a bad reaction,” Jones said of his penalty. “I should have just kept it in between the lines. That’s a rookie mistake and something that won’t happen no more.”