In case anybody was doubting the reports from the spring, we had our own eyes on the field yesterday for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first practice of training camp, and it was immediately made readily apparent that the coaching staff has been making very heavy use of a three-man rotation at the inside linebacker position.
It has been the somewhat inevitable byproduct of a team upping the ante in the offseason, having one starter that they like, only to sign another in free agency, following which they went all out to get the guy that they like in the draft.
So a year after pitting Jon Bostic and Tyler Matakevich against one another to start next to Vince Williams, as was the case at Latrobe in 2018, this year, Williams finds himself being rotated out occasionally, with veteran newcomer Mark Barron and 10th-overall pick Devin Bush running—and calling—the first-team defense.
And it can come from play to play. The veterans, Williams and Barron, did start things off, but it wasn’t long before Barron would come off in favor of Bush, only for the former to check back in with Williams watching the new faces run the defense of which he is the second-oldest veteran behind Cameron Heyward.
Chances are, this will continue for at least a bit, certainly not before the pads come on. While they already know what Williams brings to the table—he is entering his seventh season and has been a full-time starter for the past two years—they are just learning about Barron and Bush now, especially the latter.
As training camp opened on Thursday, Head Coach Mike Tomlin did say that Bush will be afforded additional reps, provided that his level of conditioning permits and dictates that, in an effort to accelerate his development. When you trade up into the top 10 to draft somebody, it goes without saying that your intention is to get him in the starting lineup, and probably sooner rather than later.
But there is a domino effect. If Bush starts, does the team favor the more familiar Williams as the primary buck? He would be of great assistance in helping Bush to learn, execute, and perhaps even call the defense, while Barron is still learning the ropes himself.
It’s likely that all three linebackers will play relatively significant snaps over the course of the season, but they will settle into two of them to be their primary players on a down-to-down basis. The process of reaching that combination of players is really only just beginning. Check back in another week or two to see how rapid the rotations are with the first-team group.