When you are a late-round draft pick along the defensive line in a 3-4 and your new position coach is the same man who not only coached you in college but also recruited you out of JUCO, it stands to reason that the story that is going to follow you for a while is the very fact of your prior relationship with your current coach.
That was basically the only lasting impression that we have remaining with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ seventh-round draft pick in 2018, Alabama defensive tackle Joshua Frazier, who was coached by Karl Dunbar for two years with the Crimson Tide.
Fellow Alabama alumnus Isaiah Buggs, a sixth-round pick for the team this year, is hoping to avoid that same meaningless fate. While he appreciates the fact that Dunbar is with him in Pittsburgh, he doesn’t want that to be his entire story, a mere footnote as a draft quirk of having been coached by the same person at both levels.
In actuality, Buggs’ most productive season came in 2018 while Dunbar was already in Pittsburgh. He put up a high sack total that caught the Steelers’ scouts’ attention. But their defensive line coach was already more than aware of him.
“Yes he did, he recruited me out of Gulf Coast Community College and he worked with me ever since then”, Buggs said of Dunbar when asked about their prior relationship as the rookies and first-year players were closing up rookie minicamp yesterday.
So going from scouting him in a junior college to coaching him at a Power-5 school to then scouting him for a professional career, Dunbar will now coach Buggs at the NFL level. You can say that they have a lot of history, and that’s certainly not a disadvantage. But it’s not something you can fall back on, either.
“It helps a lot, but you can’t let that determine whether you’re on this team or not”, he said. “You’ve got to go in each and every day like he never coached you before. You’ve got to buy in and listen to what he tells you. He’s gonna be hard on you, and you do what he tells you to do”.
One big difference between the 2018 roster and the 2019 roster is the fact that there is a clear opening for Buggs, whereas there wasn’t for Frazier. The Steelers returned all six defensive lineman from the previous season when they drafted Frazier, but they did not retain L.T. Walton this time, nor did they sign any free agents.
That should help him a lot in making the roster, though he still has to compete with the likes of Lavon Hooks, who has spent the past two years on the practice squad, and Casey Sayles, whom the team had in camp last year, played in the AAF, and then they brought back this spring.