That’s the goal this season for Pittsburgh Steelers second-year linebacker Jarvis Jones. It doesn’t matter how he does it, either.
”No matter how you get there, you just have to get there,” Jones said.
The Steelers hope to see just that starting Sunday when they welcome the Cleveland Browns to Heinz Field for their season opener.
Jones displayed flashes during the preseason. He sacked Eli Manning in the first game against the New York Giants and, in the team’s finale, recovered a fumbled snap that went 15 yards past Carolina Panthers quarterback Derek Anderson.
Jones is ready for more against the Browns.
”That’s what we look forward to, being able to play some real football and actually fight for something,” Jones said. ”This one right here, Week 1, we’re playing against a top opponent in our division and we can’t afford to start slow.
”You have to be hitting on all cylinders because everything counts from here on out.”
Jones, the No. 17 pick in the 2013 draft, carried a reputation for reaching the passer at Georgia, totaling 28 sacks in 26 games, good for third in school history. But he struggled in his rookie season with just one sack, four passes deflected and 41 tackles in 14 games.
”I wasn’t productive and it hurt,” Jones said. ”I’m not used to being in that position. Ever since I started playing football in high school, I’ve always been successful.
”It was humbling, but at the same time it makes you work harder. That’s the approach I take.”
Jones has focused more on his mental approach to the game, spending additional time in the film room, studying formations, techniques, tendencies and more. The extra time helps, particularly in a week like this one when Jones will face Browns left tackle Joe Thomas, considered one of the best in the league.
”When you get to the NFL, you’re playing against guys that have been in the league for 10 years,” Jones said. ”I think most people try to play this game on the physical side, but it’s the mental side that makes you a Pro Bowler and a Hall of Famer.”
That’s where Jones eventually wants to land. He wants to be mentioned alongside the likes of James Harrison, the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year who retired over the weekend fourth in team history with 64 sacks.
”When you look at it, he’s one of the best players to ever play this game,” Jones said. ”When you win Defensive Player of the Year in this league it means something.
”When you talk about someone who had 60-plus sacks, defensive player of the league . I’ve got a long way to go and I’m nowhere near there. So for myself I have to continue to work, continue to try to get better and do the things my coaches and teammates ask of me.”
Reaching the quarterback is a big part of the job description, and Jones knows it.
”Everybody puts me as a pass rusher, so that’s the main thing everybody wants to see me produce this year,” Jones said.
Jones is ready to answer the call. The disappointments of last season are a distant memory, replaced by the optimism of an impressive preseason and a new start against the Browns on Sunday.
”We got a good defense here and I believe we can be great,” Jones said. ”We have a lot to improve on, and that’s going to be there no matter how good you are, but I think we have a great defense. We just have to go out and prove it.”
NOTES: The Steelers will honor former coach Chuck Noll this season with a commemorative decal on the back of their helmets. Noll, the only coach to win four Super Bowls, passed away in June. . The players selected quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as offensive captain for the sixth time in his career. Safety Troy Polamalu was voted defensive captain for the first time. Safety Robert Golden and kicker Shaun Suisham are the special teams captains.
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