- Scott Brown, ESPN Pittsburgh Steelers reporter
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That he still embraces the alias is as close as Jones will come to predicting a breakout season for himself, something the Steelers badly need from their 2013 first-round draft pick.
“I’m going to do it my way,” Jones said. “Just keep quiet and work hard and produce on the field. I’ve got to live up to my name.”
It is critical that Jones do that since no player’s development on a defense that has gotten profoundly younger is more critical than his.
The Steelers’ defense has to become more opportunistic after forcing just 20 turnovers last season. Jones and left outside linebacker Jason Worilds providing a consistent pass rush would go a long way toward the Steelers taking the ball away more.
It would also help a secondary that has questions at cornerback.
Jones is poised to make a big jump after improving his strength the offseason and significantly raising his comfort level with the defense.
In addition, new defensive assistant Joey Porter, who played right outside linebacker in seven seasons with the Steelers and recorded 60 sacks, is mentoring Jones. And Jones spent the offseason working on his pass-rushing technique with Kansas City outside linebacker Justin Houston.
The two former Georgia teammates are close friends and trained together in Atlanta. Houston has 21 combined sacks in the last seasons -- he had 11 in 11 games in 2013 -- and Jones wants to replicate the success Houston has had since becoming a full-time starter in his second NFL season.
“I’ve been watching a lot of film of him and just watching his hand placement, his steps,” Jones said. “I feel really good about myself and where I’m at right now.”
Jones admittedly didn’t feel good about himself last season while struggling as learned a complex defense on the job and running into left tackles who were bigger and stronger than the ones he had regularly beaten in college.
The 6-2, 245-pounder recorded just one sack after making 28 of them in the two seasons he played for Georgia, and Jones admittedly got down on himself.
“It hurt because I wasn’t productive and I’m not used to being in that position,” Jones said. “Ever since I started playing football I’ve always been successful. It was humbling and it just makes you work harder.”
The Steelers need that work to produce signifcant returns this season.
General manager Kevin Colbert has said the Steelers will only go far as young players such as Jones take them, and SacMan_29 embraces that challenge.
“We understand that we’re a young group so we’ve really got to take the initiative of being physical, taking advantage of us being together,” Jones said of a defense that has eight projected starters who are 27 years old or younger. “We’re a lot younger than they’re used to seeing. We’ve got to gain our respect from everybody, even our teammates.”
3dEric D. Williams
3dEric D. Williams