Steelers rookie outside linebacker Jarvis Jones has been diagnosed with a concussion and must pass a series of league-mandated concussion tests to be cleared for the game Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.
Jones, who supplanted veteran Jason Worilds as the starting right outside linebacker after the first game, missed practice Wednesday with what was described as a head injury on the team's official injury report. He was diagnosed with a concussion Wednesday evening.
Thursday, Jones was cleared to participate in an "exercise challenge," an official league-wide protocol all concussed players must go through before being cleared to play again.
Jones, the team's first-round draft pick in the spring, said he was injured on a kickoff in the 19-6 victory Sunday against the New York Jets, but it was unclear when. He played 33 of the defense's 58 snaps and played late into the fourth quarter. His pressure and hit on Jets quarterback Geno Smith with 3:08 remaining in the fourth quarter led to inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons' interception that sealed the victory. There was no kickoff after that play.
The Steelers said Thursday that Jones first alerted team doctors of symptoms Monday, at which time he was tested and treated. Jones was unavailable for comment after practice Thursday, but defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said he was optimistic that Jones would be able to play Sunday.
Concussions are a front-burner issue with the NFL in the wake of a class-action lawsuit filed by retired players against the league. The NFL has come down hard on players who use their helmets as weapons and has strived for better safety within the game.
If Jones played after sustaining a concussion he would be the second known Steelers player to do so this season. Running back Isaac Redman told the Post-Gazette he played with a concussion after getting injured on the opening kickoff in the second game of the season at Cincinnati. The Steelers disputed Redman's claim and said they followed proper league protocol regarding head injuries when allowing him to return to that game.
Redman, the starting running back at the beginning of the season, has been inactive the past two games.
The Steelers rank 31st out of 32 NFL teams in rushing with 61 yards per game, but the short passing game has been one way they have made up for the lack of a consistent rushing attack.
The three-step drop and screen game were particularly effective in the victory Sunday against the Jets.
With the run game sputtering to the tune of 73 yards on 26 carries (2.8 average), quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went to shorter drops and quicker routes with great success.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Steelers had 40 yards on nine receiver screens (4.4 yards per play) in that game. One went to Antonio Brown for 16 yards on third-and-15.
The Steelers had 56 yards on receiver screens over their first four games.
"The screens definitely help out," veteran receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. "It keeps the defense off balance. You're not letting them tee off on you. That's what it's all about.
"We have a variety of things we can go to, depending on what the defense does. It ended up falling that way early on in that game. We were just feeling the defense out and attacking them that way. It was a great game plan last week. They're a legit defense, man. They move around with those exotic blitzes. They were monsters up front. It fell that way. We adjusted."
Starting offensive right tackle Marcus Gilbert (quadricep) was limited in practice for a second consecutive day. ... Richard Gordon, the newest tight end on the roster, did not practice Thursday because of a toe injury. ... Defensive end Brett Keisel (abdomen), tight end Heath Miller (not injury-related) and outside left linebacker LaMarr Woodley (knee) were full participants in practice.Steelers
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com and Twitter @rayfitt1. Sports writer Gerry Dulac contributed. First Published October 17, 2013 8:00 PM