By Matt Popchock

LATROBE, Pa. (93-7 THE FAN) — A defense that topped the league statistically even in a non-playoff year probably doesn’t have many weaknesses, but the Steelers believe 2013 first-round draftee Jarvis Jones can fix one of their bigger ones.

Despite his recent health issues, the refusal of James Harrison to take a pay cut, instead signing with the AFC North rival Bengals as a free agent, left “Blitzburgh” without a proven pass-rushing outside linebacker.

This has been, historically, the crux of Hall-of-Fame coordinator Dick LeBeau’s defense. With 2010 second-round choice Jason Worilds looking like something of a late bloomer, Don Banks, who writes the “Inside The NFL” column for Sports Illustrated, believes Georgia product Jones, who will battle Worilds for a starting job in training camp, can provide more immediate help.

“Jones…is off to an impressive start in his first Steelers camp, showing good instincts and feel for the game, doing a fair J.J. Watt impersonation with several batted down passes, and flashing the speed, athleticism and strength it takes to collapse the pocket and stand out in pass rush drills,” Banks wrote.

Jones, at 17th overall, became the highest-drafted outside linebacker in Steeler history after leading the country with 24.5 tackles for loss and seven forced fumbles as a senior. The Bulldogs, with him leading the way, ranked in the top ten in passing yardage allowed per game in 2012–playing the same 3-4 scheme the Steelers traditionally use.

“The difference between him and some others that we’ve acquired since I’ve been here is we’re asking him to do a job that we saw him do in college,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin told Banks. “He’s not a convert, and I think there’s an advantage from that perspective. There’s going to be more young men you can say that about moving forward, because of the evolution of the 3-4 defense in college football.”

The Steelers have ranked around the middle of the NFL in regular-season sacks for the last two years. They led the league in that category in 2010 en route to their last Super Bowl appearance.

They finished second overall in sacks prior to winning Super Bowl XLIII, and again in 2009.

Click here to read the full story by Banks.


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