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Bevy of first-round linebackers must make Steelers defense go

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LATROBE, Pa. – DeAngelo Williams passes Jarvis Jones in the cafeteria.

"Don't let yourself go," Williams said. "You're looking real good out there."

Jones is one of three consecutive first-round linebackers selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers. The potential of that group must graduate to production for the Steelers to restore a sagging defense.

The Steelers, once known for pass rushing, ranked 26th in the league with 33 sacks a year ago. The Steelers selected Jones, Ohio State inside linebacker Ryan Shazier and Kentucky edge rusher Bud Dupree in back-to-back-to-back years in part because Pittsburgh typically drafts in the second half of the first round, where the best-player-available draft method prevails. They also wanted to add defensive speed, which Shazier and Dupree clearly have.

Jones isn’t known for his speed but entered the league with a rep as a relentless rusher, producing 24.5 tackles for loss for Georgia in 2012. Jones battled a wrist injury for much of last season but the numbers -- three sacks in two seasons -- are hard to ignore.

Jones aims to change that. And he will need to, because if the Steelers don't find consistent sack masters (Cameron Heyward led the team with 7.5 last season), the offense's goal of scoring 30 points per game won't be enough some weeks.

"He wants to be a guy who gives us 10-12 sacks a year," said Pro Bowl inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons, also a first rounder, from 2007. "Very motivated."

Adds Jones: "I'm here to work, I've been working. All the other stuff that goes with it doesn't matter."

While Dupree is a relative unknown until proven otherwise, Timmons and Shazier should have chances to disrupt offenses from several spots. Timmons can be seen rushing the passer on blitz packages during training camp practices. Despite the switch from Dick LeBeau to new coordinator Keith Butler, blitzing will always be a Steelers hallmark, Timmons said.

The preseason usually doesn't matter much but this year "it's going to be fun," Timmons said, because the new defense is expected to try out some new wrinkles.

This fits Shazier's skill set perfectly, Timmons said, because Shazier's range will be utilized well.

"Jarvis, he has a lot to prove just like I do," Shazier said. "We've been talking and we've been working this offseason."