Joey Porter has waited long enough, waited to see his old outside linebacker position become a dominant force on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense again.
He thinks this will be the year, and he provided somewhat of a surprise prediction or two. The team’s outside linebackers coach believes both former No. 1 draft picks, Jarvis Jones and former University of Kentucky star Bud Dupree, can put the Steelers on the sack map again.
Jones? “If he stays healthy, I still see him being a guy who can give you double-digit sacks. I really do.”
Dupree? “I’m expecting double-digit sacks out of him, too.”
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No Steelers player has had 10 sacks since James Harrison (10.5) and LaMarr Woodley (10) did it six seasons ago.
With that, Porter believes both starters will play more often than last season, when he rotated them with veterans Arthur Moats and Harrison. This season, he said they will not leave the field if they are producing.
“Last year, a lot of times I pulled [Dupree] out of the game, a learning experience. I can’t really justify myself doing that now. If those guys are out there doing it and they know the defense, there’s no reason to pull them.”
Those are a lot of expectations. Jones has six sacks in three seasons, including one in the playoffs. Dupree had four his rookie season. There’s your 10 — over four combined seasons.
Yet Porter, who played the position for the Steelers as well as anyone in their long line of great outside linebackers, knows the score. He knows the Steelers did not pick up Jones’ contract option for 2017 for a reason, knows many people are down on him.
“I read some of the stuff. I get it,” Porter said. “I played linebacker here. One of the most frustrating things you can do as a player is not meet the Steelers’ expectations and the fans’ as far as outside ’backer.’ ”
But he also knows what he sees. Jones was thrown into the fray too early as a rookie, then shattered his wrist his second season. Few knew the setbacks he had last season with a re-injury to his wrist to go with an elbow injury that required protection.
“If we keep him injury free and let him play, the arrow’s pointed up,” Porter said. “There’s a lot of good football left in Jarvis Jones.”
Jones missed practice Monday, but it was not due to injury this time. He was ill.
So what about the Steelers not picking up his contract for next season?
“It is a business,” Porter said. “Whether that lights a fire under him and lets him know where he stands … that’s not to say if he goes out there and has a double-digit sack year, you’re going to let that walk away.”
Porter said it’s as if the Steelers said: “We’re going to light the fire under you to see where you stand. Like, we need to see it; this is year four.
“And you think he doesn’t think about that when he has me and James in the room with him every day? And then the young buck linebacker comes and has like [four] sacks his rookie year. All that added pressure. Yeah, he sees it all the time.
“He knows the history of the Woodleys and the Gildons and all the guys who came through here and him being a [No.] 1. That’s just enough pressure on him.
“I’ve never been a No. 1 pick, but I can imagine the pressure. I’ve been around here long enough to see our No. 1s, and I’ve seen some get run out the door.”
Jones lost a few pounds, down to 248, which Porter believes is good for him. Same with Dupree, who is 253. The Steelers sank their highest hopes in each when they drafted them, and Porter believes they finally can reap the benefits this season.
“I’m waiting for those two to have their best year ever. I told my man [Jones] the other day, ‘I’m not going to say I told you so when it happens, I’ll just give you the look.’
“That position carries a lot of weight, and we’ve been spoiled with riches for outside linebackers for years, and we hold that spot to a high expectation, and that was way, way before me. I’m talking about Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene were dominating for years, and I played with Jason Gildon and Clark Haggans and then you had Woodley and James.”
And now they have Bud Dupree and Jarvis Jones.