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April 26, 2013

Gene Collier: Jones falls into Steelers' lap during NFL Draft

PITTSBURGH — The surprises didn't exactly come in waves in Round 1 of the NFL draft, which was perfectly thematic because it was certainly no surprise when the Steelers pounced on Jarvis Jones, much in the way they expect him to pounce on quarterbacks as early as this fall.

It was hardly even a surprise that general manager Kevin Colbert said he wasn't so much surprised that the outstanding Georgia Bulldogs linebacker was still available two-plus hours into the draft; it was more a matter of being delighted.

"Not so much surprised," he confirmed after eschewing the wide receiver option, the tight end option, the cornerback option and other options outside of that triple option. "With the 3-4 defense [the Steelers play], that cuts the market in half for who's looking for this kind of player. Jarvis didn't work out at the combine, and when he ran a 4.9 [40-yard dash] at his pro day, we were happy. We didn't think we had a chance at him.

"But I don't care what he runs. He's a football player in every phase of the game. When the time wasn't quite what others are looking for, we were excited. He's a special player in this draft. He's a solid kid, a great player. He's been productive at the major college level. In fact, he's been dominant. Most important, he gets after the passer."

Coach Mike Tomlin said he had little difficulty discerning that Jones was precisely what he was looking for regarding that conspicuous space in a proud defense vacated James Harrison.

"It was a fun and easy evaluation from our standpoint," Tomlin said. "When you're looking at an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, you find Jarvis playing a very similar scheme, so there's very little guesswork in that regard. It makes it a comfortable evaluation. When Kevin said the other day that there were six to eight special players in this draft, he was certainly one of them. So getting him at 17 is exciting."

Nothing too surprising unfolded in the front half of the prime-time round of the draft either, not even if you count No. 1 pick Eric Fisher saying something few humans ever have: "I'm pumped to be a Chief."

But there was something that got said even less in the ramp-up to this draft: "There's nothing wrong with these 2-14 Kansas City Chiefs that an offensive tackle out of Central Michigan couldn't fix."

Fisher was one of three offensive tackles taken with the first four picks, meaning offensive tackles got more attention in the first 40 minutes of what commissioner Roger Goodell had just called the start of the new season than they will in the entirety of its remainder, which is said to include actual games.

The draft was almost an hour old when someone on ESPN barked that newest Cleveland Brown, outside linebacker-to-be Barkevious Mingo, "plays with a motor." That'll come in handy, especially if, for example, a training camp lawn mower breaks down this summer.

"Barkevious, can ya play with this for a while?"

Tavon Austin, the best receiver in this draft, at least according to the St. Louis Rams, disappeared from the Steelers' radar with the announcement of the eighth pick. The Rams moved up to No. 8 via a trade with Buffalo and promptly picked the smallest of the elite wideouts. Austin, the West Virginia standout, is listed at 5 feet 9, 175 pounds, dimensions that demand the kind of speed that can keep a person in one piece.

The first tangible indication that Cordarrelle Patterson or Justin Hunter, the two Tennessee burners who might have best improved the Steelers' balky offense, would be available to them at No. 17 probably came after Carolina used the 14th pick on mountainous nose tackle Star Lotulelei.

By the time safety Kenny Vaccaro of Texas went off the board at No. 15 and Buffalo made E.J. Manuel the first quarterback taken, it was evident the Steelers would have all the latitude needed to move effectively in any number of directions.

Jones was there for the taking, also Patterson, also tight end Tyler Eifert of Notre Dame, and any number of applicable corners.

But Colbert and Tomlin and the draft room wasted no time.

It took longer for Jones to realize the Steelers were on his cell phone from the media room than it took for the club to decide he was the right guy.

"Who is this? The Steelers?" were the first words we heard Jones say. "OK, well, no, I'm not surprised, just excited. I talked to coach Tomlin during my pro day and he told me how much he liked the way I play and how I could come in right away and do what I'm supposed to do.

"They need an outside linebacker so I'm just so happy to be part of this organization. I know they've got a great defense and it's something I take a lot of pride in and something I'm very passionate about."

That too, should be no surprise.

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