PITTSBURGH — At some point, 2023 first-round draft pick Broderick Jones will likely be the starting left tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers on a permanent basis.
When that point comes seems to still be up in the air. Jones made his first career start last Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens as an injury replacement. But there’s a difference between being a fill-in starter and taking the job over on a permanent basis.
Jones was outplayed by incumbent starter Dan Moore Jr. throughout training camp and the preseason, and Moore didn’t do anything in the first four weeks of the season to cause him to lose his job.
Jones allowed one sack in his first four games, though he did yield 20 total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. He did not appear to be in dire jeopardy of losing his job when he left the team’s Week 4 game early with a right knee sprain.
But in his stead, Broderick Jones played well. He gave up just four pressures over most of two games, and the Steelers had their best rushing game of the season at Houston, averaging 4.6 yards per carry.
It seemed that the time had come. But when the Steelers lined up for practice on Monday, it was Moore, not Jones with the starters.
Asked if Moore would start if healthy on Monday, Tomlin said only that his health was still in question, declining to answer the hypothetical. Pushed further about what goes into the process of deciding when a first-round pick will assume his position from a veteran, Tomlin said there isn’t just one answer.
“It’s on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “It has to be. You want to be fair to everyone. If they’re quick learners and so forth, you don’t want to exclude them. If they’re a veteran player that doesn’t require a lot of physical reps, you don’t want to exclude them, et cetera. So over the years, I’ve learned to handle it on a case-by-case basis.”
It’s clear that Tomlin didn’t plan to turn things over to the rookie so quickly. But did Jones show any growth while being thrust into action? Tomlin said that he did, but declined to go into specifics.
“Every venue is an opportunity for learning for a young player,” he said. “Classrooms, practices, watching others and then ultimately playing yourself. We’re not interested in excluding any of the teach tools, because different people learn differently and we’re trying to accelerate the growth process for all parties involved. So I don’t know that we view any of those things any differently. When you’re a young player, just about every opportunity, whether it’s physical work or watching others or on your feet or butt in seats in the classroom, is an opportunity for get-better and growth.”
Tomlin said that Jones “hasn’t been deficient” in his learning. So what does that mean about Jones’ progress, who will play on Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams, and when the highly touted rookie will take over that job? Your guess is as good as mine.