PITTSBURGH – Howard Jones is the most intriguing player as the 53-man roster takes shape since it might be hard for the Steelers to both keep and cut the undrafted rookie.
Two games, albeit preseason ones, into his NFL career, Jones has returned a fumble for a touchdown and nearly scored after another fumble recovery.
If Jones turns in another game-changing play on Thursday night against the Philadelphia Eagles -- whether as an outside linebacker or on special teams, he will only bolster his argument that he deserves a spot on the 53-man roster.
Working against that argument: Jones is incredibly raw as an outside linebacker, and the Steelers might not have the luxury of essentially redshirting him at a position where they are not very deep.
“He doesn’t know anything about playing linebacker,” Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said. “He’s got some ability, he’s trying to learn, he has progressed a little bit. Not as fast we’d like it but he’s around the ball a lot.”
Butler isn’t down on Jones as much as he is realistic.
The player who set Shepherd University’s all-time record for sacks with 35 dominated Division II competition because he was simply faster and more athletic than most of the players he matched up against.
Jones needs to get bigger and stronger, and the 6-foot-4, 238-pounder still has a lot to learn about the nuances of playing outside linebacker at this level.
“I think one day if he could finally figure out what he’s doing (Jones will be good) and I think he will eventually," Butler said. "But it’s a time thing, and NFL people don’t tend to wait patiently for you."
Jones’ ticket to the 53-man roster instead of the practice squad is clearly on special teams. And it would help his cause if inside linebacker Terence Garvin has shown the coaches he can also play outside if needed there.
The battle for the fourth outside linebacker spot is wide open, with the Steelers likely to part ways with fourth-year veteran Chris Carter.
It could come down to Jones and Vic So'oto, whose quarterback sack last Saturday night forced the fumble that Jones recovered and led to the Steelers' first preseason victory since 2012.
For the player who answers to "HoJo" to make the team he will have to convince the coaches that he is too valuable on special teams to keep him off the 53-man roster.