Jamir Jones started the 2021 season pretty far down the Steelers depth chart. After the way 2020 went, he was happy to just be on the depth chart.
Jones went undrafted out of Notre Dame last spring, signed on with the Houston Texans, and had barely gotten through the intake testing part of last season’s COVID-19 protocols when the Texans cut him loose.
Jones spent the entire rest of 2020 on the sidelines before catching on with the Steelers in April.
“Last year around this time, I was sitting at home just waiting for a call,” Jones said in August after the Steelers’ second preseason game.
But instead of just sitting around, or being happy with his place on the depth chart, Jones pushed his way toward the top with a strong preseason, leading the Steelers in sacks.
His rise pushed veteran Cassius Marsh and sixth-round draft pick Quincy Roche off the roster, as the Steelers elected to keep Jones over both players as the No. 4 outside linebacker.
That’s not a role that’s usually expected to do a lot outside of special teams and should have provided Jones a nice, easy transition season into becoming an NFL regular.
Then T.J. Watt got hurt in Sunday’s Week 2 game against the Las Vegas Raiders and Jones was thrust into the mix as the first man off the bench behind Alex Highsmith and Melvin Ingram at one of the most critical positions on the Steelers’ defense.
“I thought for sure [Watt would] be able to go back in,” Jones said after the game. “When the docs told us that he was done for the game, I just had to get my mind right.”
Jones played 15 snaps of defense, rushing quarterback Derek Carr 10 times and attempting to stop the run five, making one tackle. It’s a small sample, but Jones felt good about the help he was able to provide.
“I’d been preparing with the team all week and I was confident in my abilities,” he said.
As far as the defense as a whole, the team seemed to lose its edge without Watt, nose tackle Tyson Alualu, inside linebacker Devin Bush, cornerback Joe Haden, defensive end Stephon Tuitt. Jones said the team needed some players to step up with some big plays .
“We just didn’t make the plays when we need to, those big third downs and getting off the field,” he said. “It hurt us in the end.”
Watt will likely be at least somewhat limited in practice this week, giving Jones critical additional reps before the Steelers take on the Bengals this Sunday.
“We’ve got to come back this week with a different focus, different mindset,” Jones said. “Get all the little things fixed. … I’m confident that this week we’ll get it fixed and next week, we’ll come out better.”