The Pittsburgh Steelers are out of Latrobe and back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the regular season, where everything is magnified and, you know, actually counts. The team is working through the highs and lows and dramas that go through a typical Steelers season.
How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: When the defense lines up for the first time at OTAs, will Devin Bush take the first rep as Ryan Shazier did five years ago?
Ryan Shazier was the highest they had made a draft pick in a while when they selected him 15th overall in 2014. Though it was due in large part to losing Larry Foote, he would work with the starters at his first opportunity, and would have started his entire rookie season if it were not for injuries.
Five years later, they drafted Devin Bush to be Shazier’s replacement. Once again there is no real incumbent since Shazier was injured, but they did add Mark Barron in free agency, which is more than can be said for their approach the year their Pro Bowler came in.
Jon Bostic, and then later L.J. Fort, started games at the Mack position last season, but both of them are now gone. Fort signed with the Eagles during free agency, while Bostic was released after a draft in which they added three linebackers to the mix.
The last time the Steelers installed a rookie starter at inside linebacker, it was at Vince Williams’ expense. Now, will a rookie starter be working alongside him from the get-go? Or will they give the veteran, who has no more experience with the team than Bush, the first crack?
Barron will have some advantages. He obviously has played in and started a lot of games. He has had the Steelers’ playbook for much longer. But the team didn’t trade up in in the first round with the idea in mind that Bush was going to spend his rookie season on the bench.
While it would be far from surprising if he doesn’t run with the ones just yet—it’s a basic sign of respect paid to a veteran who agreed to join your team in free agency—it shouldn’t be long before Bush at least gets some snaps mixed in with the top group.