Ron Cook: Steelers defense already can't afford to lose Jones


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Many of the Kansas City Chiefs players had huge smiles when Steelers linebacker Jarvis Jones went down in a pile on the Heinz Field turf in front of their bench Saturday night and didn't get up. The first thought was that Jones somehow took a shot to the groin. It's a guy thing to laugh when that happens as long as you're not the guy who is experiencing that unfortunate, even temporarily paralyzing agony.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin walked all the way across the field to check on Jones, his terrific young rookie linebacker, who was the most active and productive player in the Steelers' 26-20 overtime loss. Tomlin also had a big grin when Jones finally made it up and started back toward the Steelers bench. Many of Jones' teammates appeared to be teasing him when he finally got there.

Here's the thing, though:

No one was laughing after the game. Jones was taken out of Heinz Field on a gurney and moved to a local hospital for evaluation of what the team called a "chest injury." It's safe to say he would have much preferred that unpleasant hit to the groin.

The Steelers had no update on Jones Sunday other than to say he was sent home from the hospital and tests on his injury were negative. That's supposed to be a good thing, but it doesn't provide any clarity to how much time -- if any -- he will miss. Will it be one game? Two games? Heaven forbid for the Steelers, more games?

If Jones is out for a significant period of time, he will be very much missed by the team's defense. He has played so well that he deserves to be the starting outside right linebacker in the opening game Sept. 8 against the Tennessee Titans. He has received much more playing time than veteran Jason Worilds and, clearly, has taken advantage of it by making one big play after another.

Isn't that what good defensive football is supposed to be about? Making splash plays? Helping to change momentum with a sack or a quarterback hurry? Helping the offense with a turnover? Jones has a chance to give the Steelers what they missed last season despite having the NFL's top defense in fewest yards allowed.

Jones was injured midway through the fourth quarter when he was tackled after intercepting a deflected pass. In the previous exhibition game against the Washington Redskins, he forced a fumble. In the first exhibition game against the New York Giants, he recovered a fumble.

"He's got a knack," Steelers linebacker Larry Foote said of Jones. "The ball likes him. You need guys like that."

Jones made an impact Saturday night long before his interception, which was nullified by a pass interference penalty against cornerback Josh Victorian. Playing on special teams, he had a big hit on Chiefs kick returner Knile Davis. He had a big part in stopping running back Jamaal Charles for no gain on a fourth-and-inches play from the Kansas City 21. His rush forced a high throw and incompletion by quarterback Alex Smith. He nearly knocked tackle Branden Albert and Davis, a running back, into their quarterback on separate plays with bull rushes.

"He's got a little explosiveness to him," Foote said. "He's still a rookie, but he's getting better. He can crash the line down and push people around and create stuff. He's strong, but he also can cover. I'm sure the coaches are going to have a lot of fun running games with him and the guys up front because he can do so many things."

This is what the Steelers expected from Jones when they drafted him No. 1 in April after it became clear free agent James Harrison wasn't going to re-sign with the team. Foote has it right about Jones. He's a rookie, but he's getting better every practice, every game. It's nice to think his chest injury won't be much of a setback.

"He likes to play," Foote said.

That's a big part of the package it takes to be a big-time linebacker in the NFL.

"He can play," Foote said.

That makes it a complete package.

Steelers - roncook

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published August 26, 2013 4:00 AM


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