Though they were able to pile on the sacks, and had a solid pressure rate overall, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense is coming off of yet another disappointing season. Which means that the team, yet again, used a first-round draft choice on a defensive player, for the seventh year in a row. The team had almost exclusively alternated between offense and defense with their first-round pick for a long time up until this recent streak.
It started with Jarvis Jones in 2013, then Ryan Shazier, Bud Dupree, Artie Burns, T.J. Watt, and Terrell Edmunds, leading up to this draft. Within that group are two Pro Bowlers, but also two busts, as well as an in-betweener in Dupree. And one of those Pro Bowlers, Shazier, may never play again.
Which makes it all the more important that their latest first-round defensive prospect, Michigan inside linebacker Devin Bush, lives up to their expectations. They did, after all, give up their 2019 second-round pick and 2020 third-round pick in order to move up from 20 to 10 in the first round to grab him, yet another reason it’s imperative that this dice roll lands on the right numbers.
Bush has already been running with the first-team defense, though not exclusively, and that is largely due to another linebacker that they brought in this offseason. Mark Barron was a free agent addition, their second major defensive addition following cornerback Steven Nelson. And Hilton likes what he’s seen in these new pieces with respect to the changes that they have made to the defense.
“They’re good changes”, he told Mike Prisuta for the team’s website on the upgrades at inside linebacker and outside cornerback.
“Devin, even though he’s a rookie he’s vocal, he’s flying around, doing things he’s supposed to. And Steve, on the outside, he’s in position to make a lot of plays. He’s really going to help us on the back end”.
If Bush does win the starting job, then it may well come with defensive play-calling responsibilities as well. It’s something that he has already been familiar with doing at the college level, so it’s not an entirely new concept to him, though others have said that he is working on speaking up more.
As for Nelson, he recorded more interceptions last year for the Kansas City Chiefs than any Steelers defensive player has done in a single season since 2010, so they need him to be just what Hilton described him as, a player in position to make a lot of plays.
That’s not to mention Barron, who will have some type of role—perhaps even a starting job—by the time the regular season rolls around. Those three players, and maybe even third-round rookie cornerback Justin Layne, are the key new faces on this defense that they hope can take the unit back to a championship level as soon as the 2019 postseason.