"I think it's a daunting task for rookies to start in any system and play and perform well," Tomlin said. "Obviously it is difficult when you have established veteran players like we have with a lot of continuity. We are not going to close the door on [Jones] or anyone else on earning an opportunity, and that is what this is about -- people taking advantage of opportunities. So he'll be given that."
Recent history says Jones won't start for the Steelers. Since the Steelers selected Heath Miller eight years ago, only one first-round pick (center Maurkice Pouncey) was an immediate starter for Pittsburgh.
The reality of the Steelers' situation is that there should not just be one, but two rookies starting immediately. Jones and Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh's top two picks in this year's draft, have to be considered favorites to win jobs this summer. If they don't, it would be a disappointment, especially when they address two of the team's biggest needs.
A big reason the Steelers finished 8-8 last season (beyond yet another Ben Roethlisberger injury) was the inability to force turnovers and the inconsistency of the running game. Jones is a defensive playmaker, whether it's forcing fumbles like James Harrison so often did or pressuring the quarterback into throwing an interception. He'll have to beat out former second-round pick Jason Worilds, who has 10 sacks in three seasons.
There has been a debate on if the Steelers reached for Bell in the second round because he wasn't even ranked among the top five running backs in this draft by Mel Kiper Jr. ESPN's Todd McShay had Bell ranked as the fourth-best back in this class. But the Steelers wouldn't have made him the second back drafted if they thought he would sit behind Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman.
Pittsburgh doesn't use picks on this position often. Since 1990, the Steelers have drafted two running backs in the first two rounds: Rashard Mendenhall in 2008 and Bell this year.
"Running back is a position, probably more so than most, that you have a chance to come in and make an impact," offensive coordinator Todd Haley said about Bell, via The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Obviously, there's a lot of work ahead of him. He's a young guy, but he's coming from a pro-style offense. A lot of the runs will be very similar to the runs that he was running. So I expect him to get into the mix and be a factor."