Jones moves ahead to Steelers training camp
Undrafted. Playing in often unnoticed Division II circles. Finally signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team with the urgency to improve after an 8-8 season in 2013.
Former Shepherd defensive end Howard Jones has survived the Steeler minicamps. So far, he has progressed through a learning experience that challenges him to move to outside linebacker and do well at a new position while playing against the best competition he has ever seen.
In Jones’ favor is Pittsburgh’s lack of depth at outside linebacker. His 6-foot-4 height, 4.6 speed, agility and background as an effective special teams player at Shepherd are also in his favor. Jones blocked four kicks in his career at Shepherd.
If Jones can successfully learn a new position, remain injury free and show “Steeler toughness” during his on-field time in preseason games he could make the 53-player active roster going into the regular season.
Special teams are where Jones will land if he makes the final roster. He may only play in the second half of the preseason games. But he will be watched closely and evaluated on what he does in those situations.
A team left with the distaste of an 8-8 season isn’t likely to place a rookie who was undrafted and also still learning a new position in its starting lineup. But the Steelers don’t play politics like some NFL teams do. If they have a player with the skills they want, he will play whether he’s from Shepherd, Panhandle A&M or Sul Ross State.
Should Jones impress with a learning acumen and his keen interest in contributing on special teams he should at least make the teams’ practice squad, sometimes called the “taxi squad”. Practice squad members can be activated at any time. And they can be taken away by any other team in the league and activated for regular season games.
Also occupying places on Pittsburgh’s roster are outside linebackers Chris Carter and Jordan Zumwalt, both of them in much the same do well-or-perish situation as Jones. Neither Carter nor Zumwalt is expected to start. Both have to perform to the coach’s satisfaction to make the team.
If Jones is injured or his energy and enthusiasm for special teams is not what the Steelers want then he will be released like so many others.
Getting acclimated to his new position while facing the sternest competition he’s ever seen and the severest coaching critics he’s met are only parts of the chance Jones has to play in the NFL.
The NFL is an unforgiving league. Do what’s needed or leave. Pittsburgh prides itself on being a no-frills team. Play in the wind; play in the cold; play in the mud or the snow. Win with defense. Win by being more physical than the opponent.
An do better than an 8-8 record that leaves a carry over of ill feelings toward any repeat of such a disappointment.