Jarvis Jones got a glimpse of what his life would’ve been like this week during the NFL Rookie Symposium.
Jones was a logical candidate for the Browns during April’s draft after spending his Georgia career in the 3-4 scheme adopted by Cleveland and amassing 28 sacks in two seasons. But Cleveland chose LSU’s Barkevious Mingo at No. 6 to play outside linebacker, and Jones went to Pittsburgh with the No. 17 pick.
Jones thought the Browns might take him.
“They told me they wanted me here,” Jones said Tuesday while standing on the Browns’ practice field in Berea during his four days in Northeast Ohio for the symposium. “It didn’t work out like that, but I think I fell to a great organization. I’m blessed to be there. It’s a great opportunity for me and I’m loving it.”
The comparisons of Mingo and Jones are natural. The links between them are inescapable.
They were feared pass rushers in the Southeastern Conference. They were first-round picks of AFC North rivals. They will play outside linebacker in 3-4 systems that mirror each other.
Mingo chose to ignore the symmetry.
“Honestly, I never really thought about it,” he said while standing about 30 yards from Jones. “He’s a Steeler, I’m a Brown. He was a Bulldog, I was a Tiger. I don’t think it’s reason to compare.
“We’re two different players and two different people. We just enjoy playing the same sport, that’s the only thing we have in common. And just happen to play the same position.”
Sorry, KeKe, that’s more than enough for media and fans to keep tabs and make frequent judgments on who’s having a better year or career. But Jones agreed and said he won’t keep track of Mingo’s stats.
“Me and Mingo are friends,” Jones said. “I know he’s going to do great, hope he has a great career. I know he will.
“As far as me, I’m continuing to do what I can for my team and for myself. I’ve got to continue to work on my craft and better myself. I chat with him from here to there. As far as following his career, we’re in the same league, so we pretty much know what each other is doing.”
For all the similarities, there are also a set of interesting contrasts.
Mingo (6-foot-4, 237 pounds) looks slim and athletic. Jones (6-2½, 245) is shorter and thicker.
“He’s deceptively strong,” Mingo said. “He walked those big offensive tackles back and he was getting in the backfield getting sacks and he just never stopped.”
Mingo also used “deceptively strong” to describe himself.
“Those guys, they look at me and they think they’re just going to position me,” he said. “Watch those games, you can see it’s about leverage. It’s not about how strong you are. It’s about what you can do and the motor that you have to get what you want. You don’t want to stop until the ball’s down and you’re doing everything you can and you’ll be OK.”
Mingo dazzled in workouts with a 4.58-second 40-yard dash and 37-inch vertical leap, while Jones struggled to meet the desired measurables, running a 4.9 40. Their draft stocks rose and fell accordingly.
“The combine really isn’t football,” said Mingo, who totaled 15 sacks in three seasons. “There is not going to be a time where you’re asked to run 40 yards and if you run fast then you win, unless you have the ball in your hand.
“But the coaches like to see that kind of stuff. They like to say, ‘Well, OK, if he can do that well, then he’ll be able to do this well.’ But until you actually put the pads on and you go out there and you get to those drills and you get in those games and then you play, you just don’t know.”
Mingo played end at LSU, while Jones was an outside linebacker at Georgia. Mingo certainly has looked athletic enough to drop in coverage and play in space, but the switch from hand in the ground to standup linebacker is the biggest question he needs to answer.
Jones already aced that test.
“Well, there’s obviously going to be a learning curve for me playing this position,” Mingo said. “I think I’ve done a great job so far. I’ve still got some more improvement to do, but who knows what the future’s going to hold?
“That’s why we play the games. You can’t just say one team is better than the other or one person is better than the other. You have to go out and play. Then you can compare.”
The last gap between the pair might be the widest. Mingo joins a team that hasn’t won more than five games since 2007 and hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2002. The Steelers missed the playoffs last year, but were in the Super Bowl following the 2010 season and are an annual contender.
“It’s a great organization from top to bottom, I love everything about it,” Jones said. “There is nothing like playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers. You can feel the intensity once you walk in the building, man. Being a part of this defense is going to mean a lot to me. They take pride in what we do there. It’s all about winning.”
Jones will help fill the void left by James Harrison and feels he has the right DNA to wear the black and yellow.
“I love playing defense, it’s something I’m very passionate about,” Jones said. “I love pass rushing and I love disrupting the offense, and that’s what we’re all about. Put all the pressure we can on the quarterback and make him make a decision.”
The Browns, under coordinator Ray Horton, are trying to follow the Steelers’ lead. Mingo is one of the keys.
All eyes will be on him as a rookie, but he declined to make any predictions about his production, including whether he wants a sack a game.
“That would be good to be say, but in reality it’s a wait-and-see kind of game,” he said. “I just want to contribute, do whatever I can to help this team win games. That’s a successful rookie season.”
No matter what Jones does 130 miles down the road.
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