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Kaboly: Steelers cut 9 including So’oto; more to come

August 26, 2014 by Mark Kaboly | Comments

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The Steelers cut nine players on Tuesday morning and will have to make six more roster moves by the 4 p.m deadline.

A couple of the first cuts were a little bit surprising.

The Steelers released linebacker Vic So’oto, safety Jordan Dangerfield and tight end Eric Waters despite all three have solid training camps.

So’oto may have had the best camp of all the players who were initially cut. He forced a pair of fumbles including one against the Bills that led to the game-winning points.

Dangerfield and Waters both performed well, and with the lack of young depth at the position, all three (including So’oto) could find themselves back on the Steelers’ 10-man practice squad by next week.

Also released were running backs Miguel Maysonet and Jordan Hall (Jeannette); wide receivers C.J. Goodwin (California, Pa.) and Kashif Moore; and cornerbacks Devin Smith and Lewis Toler.

The Steelers must reduce its roster to 53 players by Saturday at 4 p.m.

If you want to check out my projected 53-man roster, check out the podcast of my TribLive Radio Show — http://sportstalk.triblive.com/download/825KAB14.mp3

 

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August 25, 2014
by Alan Robinson


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Robinson: Steelers have history of mismanaging backup QBs

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lendawson2

Len Dawson as a Steelers backup QB

 

 

The Steelers’ backup quarterback situation wouldn’t make any NFL coach comfortable.

Bruce Gradkowski, who never got off the bench last season, played well against Eagles’ backups on Thursday, going 8-of-11 for 105 yards and two touchdowns, but he didn’t come in until the game had long since been decided. And he was coming off a rough outing against the Bills (7-of-13, 47 yards, 1 interception).

Landry Jones didn’t play in Philadelphia, but he was erratic and ineffective against the Giants and Bills – 13-of-26 for 127 yards, 0 touchdowns and one interception. And this was after a 2013 season in which he never saw the playing field after playing the entire preseason game at Carolina.

There’s a saying in the NFL that a team is only as good as its backup quarterback – and, if that’s the case, the Steelers have cause for concern. Still, imagine what the St. Louis Rams are going through after losing Sam Bradford for the season with a torn ACL, and are looking at going through the season with the much-traveled Shaun Hill – who’s with his fourth team – at quarterback.

Ben Roethlisberger played every snap last season, but the Steelers discovered during both the 2011 and 2012 seasons how valuable he is to them. He was hurt during the second half of both seasons, and the Steelers weren’t the same team in either year after he came back.

A backup quarterback can rally a season but, more often than not, it seems he can ruin one.

So imagine this – more than 50 years ago, the Steelers had not one but TWO future Hall of Fame quarterbacks as backups, yet had no idea what to do with either of them. So they did nothing.

Imagine today if the Steelers owned the valuable No. 5 overall pick in the NFL Draft and drafted one of college football’s best quarterbacks.

And then never let him off the bench for one season. Two seasons. Three seasons.

That’s exactly what they did with Len Dawson,  a first-round pick in 1957 who went on to throw exactly 17 passes and one TD pass for them through the 1959 season.

“It was a different era,” Dawson said.

It certainly was. Today, there would be so much pressure to play such a high pick, there is no possible way he could languish on a bench for three seasons.

“I didn’t even know I was drafted by Pittsburgh until the next day or two,” Dawson said. “Because they didn’t have the extravaganza like they have in New York.”

There wasn’t much of one awaiting him in Pittsburgh, either. Certainly nothing like that which followed the drafting of Roethlisberger in 2004.

“Walt Kiesling was the coach and he had some health problems, and Buddy Parker had won the NFL championship in Detroit in 1956 — and Art Rooney hired him,” Dawson said. “And Buddy Parker never played rookies, particularly at the quarterback position.”

After the Steelers expended a first-round pick on Dawson, from Purdue, they  traded two first-round picks on 49ers quarterback Earl Morrall – meaning they used up three first-round picks to get Morrall and Dawson. Then, only two games into the 1958 season, they traded Morrall to the Lions for Parker’s starting quarterback there, Bobby Layne.

All the while, Len Dawson sat. And sat. And sat.

“I didn’t get the opportunity, and if you don’t get the opportunity, you’re not going to be successful,” Dawson said.

Dawson didn’t get much of one after going to the Browns in 1960, throwing only 28 passes in two seasons. No wonder he jumped to the AFL in 1962, where he went on to throw for 28,507 yards and 237 TDs for the Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs – and become a Pro Football Hall of Fame member.

Could Dawson have had that career in Pittsburgh?

“I don’t know,” he said of not playing. “You’ll have to ask the Rooneys.”

One Rooney – team founder Art Rooney Sr. – had to answer more than a few questions from sons Dan and Art Jr. after the Steelers drafted a former St. Justin’s High and Louisville quarterback named Johnny Unitas in 1955.

Both Rooney sons were convinced early in training camp that Unitas had the best arm of any Steelers quarterback. (Coincidentally, Unitas had beaten out Dan Rooney to be the all-city Catholic first-team quarterback a few years before.)

But coach Walt Kiesling somehow determined that Unitas wasn’t equipped to run an NFL style offense, and didn’t give him any practice reps. Kiesling was determined to keep Jim Finks, a future NFL general manager who started every game that season, and future NFL head coach Ted Marchibroda as a backup. It’s hard to imagine even a rookie QB having worse numbers than Finks that season – 47 percent completion percentage, 10 touchdowns and 26 interceptions in 12 starts.

The Steelers cut Unitas before the season started, much to the chagrin of Art Jr., who wrote a lengthy letter to his father pleading that the Steelers kept him. But the senior Rooney said Kiesling was in charge of the roster, and that was that.

Unitas didn’t hook on with another NFL team, and he spent that fall playing for the semi-pro Bloomfield Rams for $6 a game.

A year later, a Bloomfield Rams teammate received a tryout from the Baltimore Colts, and Unitas went along — and was subsequently signed. Within three years, he was the NFL MVP – and the Steelers still were plodding along with a 6-5-1 record after having traded for Layne.

Even today, Unitas is referred to as the best quarterback in NFL history by some analysts – and Dawson is considered to be one of the key players who helped establish the AFL, allowed it to catch up to the NFL in talent and, by the end of the 1960s, merge with the NFL.

If nothing else, Art Rooney Jr. established his player evaluation skills with his assessment of Unitas, and he went on to become a pivotal figure – leading the exceptional drafts of the 1970s – who helped the Steelers win four Super Bowls during the 1970s.

Even if Unitas and Dawson were long since gone, lost to two of the worst player personnel decisions in the Steelers’ 81-year history.

 

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August 23, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Haley has plan to get back at Snoop Dogg

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NFL: Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh SteelersTodd Haley and Terrell Owens going back-and-forth with each other.

Todd Haley and Kurt Warner have shouting matches on the sidelines.

Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger reportedly not getting along when Haley was hired as offensive coordinator to replace Roethlisberger’s good friend Bruce Arians.

Todd Haley, a napkin, a hotel bar and an autograph. A dog sitter suing him.

That’s what we hear about Todd Haley.

What we don’t hear about Haley is that he has a pretty good sense of humor. Actually, a real good sense of humor.

By now everybody has heard about, or saw, rap star Snoop Dogg’s video (sorry I can’t link it here because of some profanity) of him berating Haley and pleading for Mike Tomlin to fire Haley. Snoop has been a long time Steelers fan and was actually at the their Super Bowl XLIII party the night the Steelers beat the Cardinals.

So, what’s Haley reaction?

How about the ice bucket challenge?

Haley said that he would like to take part in the challenge to support ALS and then nominate Snoop Dogg in the process to do the same.

Of course, this would happen only if it is OKd by the boss, which something tells me it wouldn’t.

Still, I do believe it would be a pretty good response to Snoop’s video, don’t you?

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August 22, 2014
by Alan Robinson


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Robinson: Tomlin, Bell, Blount talk following Steelers’ dismal loss

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PHILADELPHIA—Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount didn’t do much on the field Thursday night, and they didn’t have much to say about it – or the huge distraction they apparently  caused the Steelers – following a not-that-close 31-21 preseason loss to the Eagles.

Earlier in the day, Bell and Blount were charged by the Ross Police Department with possession of marijuana, and Bell also was charged with DUI (marijuana) for an incident that occurred Wednesday afternoon along McKnight Road, shortly before the team plane left for Philadelphia.

Both face possible discipline from the NFL, and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin hinted the team would deal with the matter, too. But he also said he didn’t fell that sitting them down would punish them.

Tomlin said:

“That conduct is detrimental to our efforts. It will be dealt with appropriately. But I didn’t view it as punishment to send them home, to not play a preseason game.  I’d rather them to play more than remove them from game.

“That’s why we took the stance we took tonight, and obviously we’ve got some things to do in regards to moving forward. But not a lot regarding it (to say) at this point in time.”

Here are transcripts of both players’ brief post-game interviews.

LE’VEON BELL (9 carries, 23 yards)

Opening statement:

“I’m sorry to be a distraction to the team but I’m only going to answer football questions now.”

How did he feel?

“I felt fine out there, felt normal, felt like a normal game.”

Was he happy to get to play?

“Yes, most definitely glad I got to play.”

On what needs to be fixed:

“We can go back and look at film but there are a lot of little things we could’ve done better. We can correct those things and get ready for next week.”

“Most definitely. We have to take our time, continue to get better each week. We have to go to practice next week and get better.”

He declined to say whether he addressed his teammates.

LeGARRETTE BLOUNT (7 carries, 32 yards)

Opening statement:

“I’m sorry for the distraction I caused my team. I just want to apologize to my team, to the coach and the organization for causing that distraction.”

On whether he thought he would play:

“I didn’t know.”

Asked if it wouldn’t happen again, he said he would answer football questions only.

On how he felt:

“I felt the same. I had my same normal game preparation and everything.”

Is he concerned about league discipline?

“I’m going to answer questions only about the game.”

On the offense:

“I think the offense has a lot of things to work on, but we’ll be good. We have a lot of things to work on in our pass game, our run game and our offense in general. We’re going to go back and evaluate the film and we’re going to definitely get better.”

On the loss:

“We’re not worried about it. It’s preseason. We’re obviously disappointed because we want to win every game. We’re obviously disappointed, but we’re going to fix everything, so we’re going to be fine.”

On what Eagles coach Chip Kelly, his former coach at Oregon, said after he ran out of bounds on the Eagles sideline during a kickoff return.

“He said it looked like you got a little faster.”

 

 

 

 

 

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August 20, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: What does the Keisel signing really mean?

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-- Chaz Palla Photo Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel.

— Chaz Palla Photo
Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel.

The Five Ws – who, what, where, when and why.

You learn that in the first day of J-School.

When the Steelers announced that they’ve signed veteran Brett Keisel, I applied the Five Ws, and quickly came up with four answers.

Who: Brett Keisel

What: Signed a two-year contract

Where: Pittsburgh

When: Aug. 20

Why: Hmmmmmm …

Why is the question that rushes right to the forefront of the Keisel signing, now doesn’t it?

Why did the Steelers feel the need to bring back Keisel when they drafted Stephon Tuitt in the second round and signed free agent Cam Thomas to a 2-year, $4 million deal in the offseason to pair with the established Cam Heyward?

On the surface, it makes no sense.

The only thing that bringing Keisel back would do is stunt the growth and cut the playing time of Tuitt.

That statement is true today as it was last week.

But if the Steelers use Keisel correctly, and I assume they will, there really is no downside.

Let’s dismiss right from the start that Keisel was brought in because of the play of Tuitt. That’s not true.

One of the reasons Keisel is with the Steelers today has a lot to do with Thomas and the depth at nose tackle.

Remember, Thomas is learning the defensive end position and it’s been a little rocky going when it comes to gap integrity. I think he will be serviceable at that position, but it might take a couple more weeks.

The issue is at nose tackle.

The Steelers have Steve McLendon and really nobody else (right now) who they feel comfortable sliding into the spot other than Thomas. Daniel McCullers will eventually be leaned on, but not now, not this year (unless an emergency).

Keisel gives the Steelers the option to move Thomas to nose tackle for rotational purposes or even in case of an injury to McLendon.

The other reason is that the Steelers are an injury to a defensive end away from really being in a bind.

Mike Tomlin was burned last year not having a capable and ready backup to fill in at running back and inside linebacker in case of injury. He learned his lesson and is not about to make that mistake again.

Brian Arnfelt hasn’t made the jump that the organization was hoping and Josh Mauro, although talented, isn’t nearly ready to be counted on in a game day situation.

Yet another reason for the Keisel signing.

This is how I anticipate it playing out: Heyward, Keisel, Thomas and sometimes Tuitt will rotate in the base 3-4 defense; Thomas will spell McLendon at nose tackle; and Heyward, Tuitt and Keisel will rotate in the nickel as the two defensive linemen.

Defensive line coach John Mitchell loves to rotate and now he can.

Oh yeah, Keisel is a pretty good clubhouse guy, can help the youngsters and came cheap, so why not?

I didn’t think it would happen, but the Steelers are better off now than they were a day ago without Keisel.

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August 18, 2014
by Alan Robinson


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Robinson: Surprise! 3 Players you didn’t know in June who could make Steelers’ roster

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Howard Jones

Howard Jones

 

Three weeks of training camp over, two weeks of the preseason to go. Two short weeks, too, given the Steelers play exhibition games each of the next two Thursdays.

As coach Mike Tomlin said last week, if a player is down on the depth chart, this is the time to make a move because there is no third-team offense or defense once the season starts.

The Steelers shifted operations back to their South Side headquarters on Monday and there was a full house in their locker room; the first player cuts won’t occur until after the Thursday night game in Philadelphia.

So, who among those 90 players who are crowing into a room designed for far fewer has made a move since training camp opened July 25? Who is in better position to make the roster now than he was after the three-day minicamp finished up June 19?

Here are three who have made a major push to work their way onto the 53-man roster for the Sept. 7 opener against the Cleveland Browns.

JOSH MAURO, DE, 6-6, 282, Stanford. Mauro was very surprised when he wasn’t drafted. Going into the draft, he referred to himself as the most “tenacious” defensive end among all those available in the draft.

Mauro was a late-developing player at Stanford, where he was a fifth-year senior a year ago; he didn’t begin starting until 2012. He was on the scout team when Steelers RG David DeCastro played for the Cardinal. Last season, starting 11 games, Mauro made 51 tackles and was chosen to play in the East-West Shrine Game.

He was known at Stanford for his relentlessness, and defensive coordinator Derek Mason called him “a bull in a china shop.” Mauro has repeatedly practiced well for the Steelers and he had two sacks Saturday against the Bills. Given how playing time is divided among so many players in August, the Steelers sometimes don’t have a single player with multiple sacks in an entire preseason.

Mauro, by the way, has done some long snapping, but the Steelers apparently did not consider him as a fill-in during long snapper Greg Warren’s projected four-week injury layoff.

Mauro is listed behind Brian Arnfelt on the defensive end depth chart, but he appears to be getting more playing time than either Arnfelt or Nick Williams, who were with the Steelers last season.

HOWARD JONES, LB, 6-4, 238, Shepherd. Think he’s not getting a long look? The Steelers have been deficient in taking the ball away for several seasons, and along comes a Division II player who recovers three fumbles in two games. Jones alertly returned one for a touchdown against the Giants when every other player on the field relaxed, thinking the ball was dead, and he picked it up and ran it in.

A non-drafted player like Jones usually makes a roster mostly on his special teams play, and that’s been a point of emphasis for him.

“I’m learning from the older linebackers – Chris Carter, Jarvis (Jones), (Terence) Garvin – all the guys,” Jones said. “I learn from them and do what they tell me.”

It was somewhat surprising Jones wasn’t drafted; he was one of the standout linebackers at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, but his age (24) might have made some teams reluctant to draft him. He ended up at Shepherd, which is about a three-hour drive from Pittsburgh in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle, after he didn’t qualify academically to attend Virginia or Virginia tech coming out of high school.

I profiled Jones last spring during rookie mini-camp in May as a player who could end up figuring in the Steelers’ plans:

ERIC WATERS, TE, 6-5, 245, Missouri. Waters also felt like he should have been drafted, and he reported to training camp with the attitude of wanting to prove he belonged.

Some NFL rookies privately question themselves during camp, wondering if they truly belong. Waters never has. He practices with a confidence that, it seems, suggests he believes the Steelers would be making a big mistake by letting him go.

With veterans Michael Palmer and David Paulson and seventh-round draft pick Rob Blanchflower all pressing to back up Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth, the Steelers have plenty of bodies at tight end. That means Water’s route to an opening day roster is through special teams, and it’s why the final preseason games against the Eagles and Carolina Panthers are very important to him.

“When you can do multiple things, you are so much better off,” he said.

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August 16, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


6 comments so far - add yours!

Kaboly: From safety to linebacker to cornerback for Polamalu? Well …

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-- Chaz Palla photo Troy Polamalu signs autographs for fans.

— Chaz Palla photo
Troy Polamalu signs autographs for fans.

Troy Polamalu can play safety, we all know that.

He showed that he can fill in at linebacker as well. He proved that last year.

What’s it going to be this year?

How about cornerback?

Well, the thought did cross Polamalu’s mind.

While monitoring the Steelers offseason moves and realizing that the team didn’t have much in the way of experience behind the top three cornerbacks Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen and William Gay, Polamalu couldn’t help but let his mind wonder a little.

“It’s so funny because this offseason I said watch, we may have corners go down and I may have to move outside,” Polamalu said just before letting out a hefty laugh.

Funny yes, but is it possible?

Well, Polamalu said he last played cornerback (not true corner but matchup corner) during his rookie season in 2003 and that safeties under defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau are asked to play man coverage more than just about any other team.

And don’t forget that defensive backs coach Carnell Lake made that move in midway through the 1995 season when Rod Woodson was lost early in the season that year with a knee injury and Alvoid Mays just couldn’t quite cut it.

But really? Can Polamalu be the an emergency corner especially at age 33?

“I don’t know,” Polamalu said.

Lake’s answer was much more forward.

“He might be able to do it,” Lake said.

Would Polamalu at least be looked at in an emergency?

“Ah, no,” Lake said.

Well, there you have it.

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August 15, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Trib’s video of Sammy Watkins vs. Lew Toler goes viral

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As a reporter who covers the Steelers, I am always trying to find a different way to give readers a glimpse into the team I cover.

To be honest, it wasn’t that difficult a few years ago to do that.

Before the onslaught of social media limiting the exclusiveness of what we call a good “nugget” of information, all you had to do is was put something in your notebook in the next day’s paper and be done with it.

Not anymore. Twitter has changed that.

So, to try to provide something unique, I started to video portions of Steelers practice (that were permitted under the team’s guidelines) and post it to YouTube.

People would make fun of me and give me a strange look, but oh well, right?

Nobody was really watching anyway. It gave me something to do while watching practice.

I’d get 202 views, 576 views and on a good day, a video would bring in 1,500 views.

Then Thursday happened.

Impressed with what I saw from Sammy Watkins during Wednesday’s practice, I decided to shoot some video of Buffalo’s first-round pick on Thursday.

During a red zone drill, Watkins was going up against undrafted rookie cornerback Lew Toler (Rutgers) and made an ankle-breaking double move that resulted in an easy touchdown.

OK, I’ll post this one, I said to myself. People want to see Sammy Watkins, right?

Little did I know that 24 hours later there would be 200,000 views … 36 hours later there would be 400,000 views, and counting.

Does that qualify for being viral?

I think just may have shocked me more than Watkins’ move.

So, here it is. Take a look for yourself.

P.S.

Here’s another one if you want to check it out.

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August 13, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: ‘Pittsburgh North’ invading Steelers camp for joint practices

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Bill's GM Whaley_0LATROBE, Pa. — Arizona is referred to as ‘Pittsburgh West’ around here because of the number of former Steelers now with the organization, and for good reason.

Five former Steelers are on the Cardinals current roster (Jonathan Dwyer, Larry Foote, Max Starks, Alameda Ta’amu, Reggie Dunn) along with five coaches (Bruce Arians, Harold Goodwin, Amos Jones, Brentson Buckner, Larry Zierlein) and a couple others with ties to the area (Roger Kingdom, Buddy Morris).

But there is also a pretty strong Pittburgh-Buffalo connection as well.

The Bills and Steelers will hold joint practices on Wednesday and Thursday before playing their preseason game at Heinz Field on Saturday. It’s the first time the Steelers have held a joint practice since the 1990s, so it should make St. Vincent College quite an interesting place for a couple days, especially with the amount of Steelers connections now associated with the Bills.

This is for sure: Directions to get around the St. Vincent College campus won’t be needed for the Bills.

Consider this:

• Bills GM Doug Whaley (Upper St. Clair/Pitt) worked as a Pro Personnel Assistant for the Steelers in 1995 and then as the Pro Scouting Coordinator from 1999-09

• Bills Director of College Scouting Kelvin Fisher (Ambridge) was a College Scout for the Steelers from 2000-12

• Bills OL Kraig Urbik was a third-round pick and a member of the Steelers during the 2009 season.

• Bills FB Frank Summers was a fifth-round selection of the Steelers in 2009.

• Bills P Brian Moorman spent the 2013 Training Camp with the Steelers.

• Bills DL Corbin Bryant spent time on the Steelers practice squad in 2011 and 2012.

• Bills OL Doug Legursky played for the Steelers from 2009-12.

• Bills LB Stevenson Sylvester played for the Steelers from 2010-2013.

That alone should make it an interesting couple of days to wrap up Camp Tomlin 2014.

Throw in some poor weather expected and some usually hot tempers associated with joint practices and what a way to end a three-week stay at St. Vincent College.

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August 12, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Jarvis Jones is more than a one-trick pony this year

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-- Photo by Chaz Palla Jarvis Jones celebrates his sacks against the Giants on Saturday.

— Photo by Chaz Palla
Jarvis Jones celebrates his sacks against the Giants on Saturday.

Jarvis Jones is just like every other football players in the NFL – he watches a lot of film.

Saying that, it’s pretty certain that the film Jones has been studying isn’t being looked at by any other linebacker in the league.

Jones said has been watching tape of former Steelers linebacker and current defensive assistant Joey Porter to help his pass-rushing repertoire.

It’s already paying off.

Jones, who had only sack as a rookie first-round pick last year, sacked Eli Manning on the fifth defensive play of the first preseason game.

Sure, it was only the preseason and came against backup Charles Brown, but it was encouraging because of how he got to the quarterback – an inside move.

Jones is a speed guy and really didn’t use an inside move last year. It made him predictable and easy to block. Jones was being labeled as a one-trick pony. Not anymore.

“Last year I was always (rushing) outside, outside, outside rather than going inside,” Jones was telling me on Monday. “I didn’t start to go inside until near the end of last year. If they sit there and watch film and see you go outside all the time, they are going to jump you outside. They see I am going inside they now have to play both ways. You just can’t jump me off the line. Now you have to honor my speed up field and the inside.”

And you know darn well mixing up pass rushing moves is something that Porter has been preaching.

During training camp, you can hear Porter coaching up the pass-rushers by constantly reminding them to mix up their moves from outside, inside and bull rushes. Not only that, but what moves to use on what players.

During a practice last week, Porter made it quite clear that guys like Jones shouldn’t be using their good moves against tight ends. To paraphrase Porter: Tight ends don’t want to block you.

“He’s been a great help to me since Day 1 he has been here,” Jones said. “He is slowing the game down for me a whole lot as far as detail work and technique, hand placement, getting off the ball and reading keys and stuff like that. He is helping me become a great pass rusher.”

Porter did have 98 career sacks in which 60 of them came while with the Steelers from 1999-2006. The Steelers hired Porter in the spring to specifically work with the pass rushers and most notably Jones.

“When you go back and look at the film, we kind of play the same way,” Jones said. “He was very athletic – probably more athletic than me. I go back and watch film and some of the moves he made to add different things to my repertoire. What really works is when you get to see it and transition it into the game.”

So far, so good.

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