After waiting his turn through the better part of four games, Steelers first-round pick Broderick Jones is finally preparing for his first NFL start.
“I’m excited,” the rookie left tackle said ahead of Wednesday’s practice. “Ready to go. Just ready to get the week started and get the preparation and all the phases of the game going. Locking in on what I need to. Just try to perform to the best of my ability.”
The Steelers took an aggressive approach in the draft, moving up from pick No. 17 to No. 14 to land the Georgia offensive tackle. However, they were much more conservative when it came to playing time, choosing to start incumbent left tackle Dan Moore Jr. in each of the first four games.
The results were mixed. While Moore didn’t allow Nick Bosa, Myles Garrett or Maxx Crosby to record a sack — a noteworthy achievement against that gantlet of high-end edge rushers — Moore also has allowed the second-most pressures (19) of any NFL offensive lineman, according to Pro Football Focus.
Now, with Moore sidelined due to a knee injury, Jones gets his opportunity to start, beginning this week when the Steelers host the Ravens. If the rookie can seize the opportunity, it could be his job for good.
“(Preparation) is the same as always,” Jones said. “It’s always one play away. We always say that. We just try to prepare to the best of our ability even if you’re not a starter because you never know.”
With Steelers Broderick Jones set to make his first NFL start on Sunday, I’ll re-share this profile of the first-round pick.
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While this will be Jones’ first start, it’s not his first exposure. Chukwuma Okorafor entered the concussion protocol late in the Week 1 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Jones stepped in to play four snaps (all runs) at right tackle.
Moore’s first-quarter injury during Sunday’s loss to the Texans thrust Jones into the lineup for his first extended playing time in the NFL. On his first NFL play at left tackle, Jones got beaten on the inside with a swim move and allowed Texans defensive end Jonathan Greenard to put a hit on Kenny Pickett. On the third snap, he got bull-rushed by Greenard, who took down Pickett for another hit. The pressure forced Pickett to check the ball down.
“Oftentimes, when you get inserted into a game like that, you got to get on a moving train, and you feel some of that. That was evident,” head coach Mike Tomlin said. “I think he gave up a pressure on his first snap, but I thought he got better throughout. I think it’s reasonable to expect him to be really solid with a week’s prep.”
It’s true that Jones did improve as the game progressed. According to Pro Football Focus, those QB hits were the only two he allowed. He’s allowed three pressures, one hurry and two quarterback hits in 48 snaps.
The most noteworthy of those plays was a fourth-and-1 late in the third quarter when Pickett was injured. Pickett appeared to leave the clean pocket early during the play, allowing Greenard to get free from Jones, so it’s probably not fair to pin the sack completely on the rookie.
“I feel like I had a solid game,” Jones said. “There’s little things to clean up here and there, technique things. Just small little areas. But I felt like that was just the jitters that I had just going in for the first game. Overall, nothing too bad. It always looks worse until you watch the film. That’s what my coach always used to tell me. It always looks bad until you watch film.”
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Jones’ first test as a starter won’t be easy. The Ravens’ stout defense has produced 15 sacks this season. That’s second only to the Bills, Seahawks and Chargers, who each have 16. The Ravens are also the league’s seventh-best rushing defense, allowing just 92 yards per game on the ground.
Part of how Jones performs in his first start will depend upon how the Steelers deploy him.
The 6-5, 311-pound lineman has the athleticism and the frame to grow into an anchor of the offensive line, but Jones is also somewhat raw. He started in just 19 games at the college level, with 15 of those starts coming during the 2022 season. It’s going to take time to refine his technique, so there will be instances when he takes his lumps in pass protection.
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However, Jones is a much more dynamic player in space than Moore. There are countless instances on his college tape when Jones pancaked defensive backs or outside linebackers on screen passes. In other situations, fellow Georgia Bulldog Darnell Washington (who is also in line for an expanded role because of Pat Freiermuth’s hamstring injury) pinned and Jones pulled to pave the way on the perimeter with his 4.97 speed, the fastest among linemen at the NFL Scouting Combine.
The Steelers have talked often recently about putting their players in better positions to be successful. Part of that would be to highlight Jones’ athleticism while giving him some help in pass protection.
“I think he’s been practicing really well,” Tomlin said. “I feel really good about what he’s done to tee up his performance from a practice perspective, the amount of urgency that he has, the quality of his play.”
Now it’s time to see what he can do with expanded playing time.
(Photo: Leslie Plaza Johnson / Getty Images)
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