J.T. Jones is a first-year outside linebacker that signed with the Steelers in April after playing with the Atlanta Legends of the AAF this spring. He spent 2018 with the Atlanta Falcons after going undrafted out of Miami (Ohio).
First, congratulations on signing with the Steelers. Tell me why you decided to sign with the Steelers?
Well, it was really the opportunity to continue to play football! I was down to go anywhere really, but what I liked about Pittsburgh was the history and tradition — stuff like that.
And I grew up looking up to Mike Tomlin, the things he’s done. Being a black head coach, that was a big thing for me. Playing for him — especially with him being a defensive guy — that’s big too. And I love James Harrison. I modeled my game after him and always wanted to play the position he played. This was the best opportunity for me. It’s an amazing time.
It’s interesting you bring up Harrison as you’re a similar player to he and Ola Adeniyi. How does being a smaller guy at outside linebacker effect your style of play?
I’m not as big as most guys who are edge rushers, but my technique, speed, and relentlessness I think set me apart. I’m smaller but I have a lot of power in my lower body. I’ve faced and beaten 6-foot-7 offensive tackles before. I’m good at using my leg strength and have long arms. I find my own way of getting things done. Like Harrison. He was crazy strong and I’m tying to get to that point too, spending time in the weight room. I won’t be as strong as him, but still. … I have fast feet too so if I can’t overpower a lineman, if they can’t touch me, I can always run around them.
How did playing in the AAF help you?
Well it was much better than sitting at home. It helped me continue to get better. The only way to get better is to go against people. The AAF was an opportunity for me to wok on my craft and get on film too, which was important to me. It got me here. And it helped me work on moves. It helped me to prefect my pass rush. Not that I’m perfect I mean, but it helped me to get better.
Tell me a bit about working on moves. How do you build on your confidence and perfect your pass rush moves?
You can’t win every rep but at the same time you can’t keep doing the same stuff. I’m excited for camp to start. That’s something I really enjoy. Getting four to five reps. On long drives, we’re both tired, me and the offensive lineman. I may have already used all of my moves at that point, but I know he’s going to be more tired than me. I know that if my moves don’t work I’ll have a counter – I’ll need something new. And I enjoy making up new stuff and trying it out Even if it doesn’t work I still need to stay confident.
And your comfort level in coverage?
I’m comfortable with dropping. I worked on it a lot while in Atlanta, playing Sam backer.
Also training-wise, I would work on my drops and hip fluidity all the time along with my pass rush. I know that I can do both well, and I need to be able to cover to compliment my rush.
Coming from a MAC team like Miami, how does it feel to have a guy like Ben Roethlisberger, from your school, as your quarterback now?
Oh it’s cool. He is the face of our entire program at Miami. He put our school on the map in a way. I used to want to sack him! I know I won’t get the chance to do that now, but I’m glad to be playing with him. He’s a helluva fine player, a helluva fine leader. To be part of the organization he is on is great. I really enjoy the idea of playing on the same team as him.
How does knowing that the Steelers really value undrafted free agents and have a high number of them on the team every season help your confidence in making the team?
Honestly, I felt a lot of energy on my visit. I didn’t know that it was a high number like you said, but it makes sense. It’s clicking now – I felt the energy on the team. It’s important to me because I was so underrated in high school and college. They didn’t look just at the big names. They just want ball players, and I’m the guy for that.
What impressed you most about your visit to Pittsburgh – what stands out about your visit?
Oh, definitely, the room where they hold all of the trophies. I’ve seen and been close to trophies. I’ve held trophies. But six of them — all lined up! That was pretty dope. And talking to the coaches, I could feel it was a family atmosphere. That adds to the excitement and confidence. I didn’t get too much of an opportunity for interaction – they were busy with draft stuff and all, and I was with two other guys who were visiting too. We really were in and out – we flew back that same day. But it was a great vibe.
Anyone you know on the team currently?
Yeah, my family is close to Bud Dupree. We grew up in the same area in Georgia, so it’s like family with him. And Marcelis Branch, we played together in Atlanta and roomed together. It’s dope that he and I can be on the same team again.
Lastly, what should we know about you off the field? What non-football things excite you?
For not on the field stuff? I like to play PS4 and just relax. And outside of football I also like to travel and see landscapes and go hiking. I love eating, too. I’ve been getting pointers on where to eat in Pittsburgh – where to get burgers and stuff.
I’m sure Primanti’s has been raised a number of times as well? The one with fries and coleslaw on the sandwiches?
No it hasn’t – but I just added it to the list!
Steelers Cut Kicker McCrane, Ex-AAF DB Tocho
The Steelers released kicker Matt McCrane and defensive back Jack Tocho on Thursday, opening roster spots ahead of their rookie minicamp and signaling at least a bit of faith in kicker Chris Boswell.
McCrane, who was signed by the Steelers at the end of the 2018 season after Boswell was placed on the injured reserve list, was 3 for 3 on field goals in his lone game with Pittsburgh.
The 24-year-old McCrane is a Kansas State grad and also spent time with the Arizona Cardinals and Oakland Raiders in his rookie season.
Boswell, who is entering the first season of a four-year, $16.8 million contract extension that was signed before the 2018 season, is coming off his worst year statistically with the Steelers.
In 2018, he hit 13 of 20 field goals overall, and 65% success rate was next-to-last in the league.
The Steelers will still have some competition for Boswell this summer, as they singed Matthew Wright as an undrafted free agent just after the draft. Wright spent the last four years at UCF, where he made 77.5% of his field goals.
Tocho, 23, signed with the Steelers after the AAF folded. He had been playing with the Birmingham Iron. The former seventh round pick of Minnesota spent the 2017 and 2018 seasons on practice squads of the Vikings and Washington Redskins.
The Steelers will have their first-year players, draft picks, undrafted rookies free agents, and tryouts at rookie camp at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side this Friday through Sunday.
Former Steelers Shine on AAF Opening Weekend
With the 2018-2019 NFL season now in the rear-view mirror, Steelers fans are still able to wave their Terrible Towels thanks to former Steelers playing in the Alliance of American Football’s inaugural weekend.
The Steelers serve as an affiliate for the AAF’s Birmingham Irons, meaning any players cut by the Steelers (Or Browns, Patriots, and Bills) would be at first grabs for Birmingham.
Seven former Steelers are currently playing for the Iron: Jacob Hagen, Jamar Summers, Johnny Maxey, Josh Frazier, Casey Sayles, Larson Graham and L’Damien Washington. The Irons shut out the Memphis Express 26-0 behind a dominant defensive display from Summers, who tallied a forced fumble, three tackles and two other passes defended aside from the interception he had here:
— The Alliance (@TheAAF) February 10, 2019
Former Steelers made their names known throughout the rest of the AAF, including linebacker Terence Garvin, who recorded eleven tackles along with the AAF’s first ever interception, while also bringing back another errant pass for a touchdown in a 40-6 win for the Orlando Apollos.
Terence Garvin pick six pic.twitter.com/hm3b1PiAdU
— Arif Hasan (@ArifHasanNFL) February 10, 2019
In the same game, Atlanta also had two players formerly of the black and gold. Legends receiver Justin Thomas recorded 4 receptions for 35 yards, while cornerback Doran Grant registered two tackles.
The AAF has seen successful ratings through its first week of play, showcasing how much Americans truly love the sport of football no matter how it’s presented. With strong showings by many former Steelers this past weekend, opportunities may present itself for players to once again find themselves on NFL rosters after the season concludes.