Every so often a player steps on the field and immediately everyone watching can tell the player has ‘it’. The team officials in the press box can see ‘it’, the coaches on the sideline can see ‘it’, so can the players on the field and even the viewers at home can see ‘it’. What ‘it’ is cannot be described easily but it is essentially a player’s natural ability to excel despite circumstances such as age or experience.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have seen a few players with ‘it’ over the years, JuJu Smith-Schuster being one and Ryan Shazier being another that comes to mind. Last Friday in the team’s first preseason game of the 2019 season, it was easy to notice that the team had another player with natural, raw talent on its roster in rookie linebacker Devin Bush.
Bush’s immediate impact, despite it being his first taste of NFL in game experience, was remarkable as the linebacker seemed to be all over the field. Head Coach Mike Tomlin noticed Bush’s impact, even going so far as to compare his performance to Shazier’s first preseason game of his career as well.
While some may think the city of Pittsburgh has gone above and beyond in a quest to make Bush the next Shazier, Tomlin’s comparison was not only warranted, it was completely justified.
First and foremost, the box score backs up Tomlin’s remarks as the two linebackers posted almost identical numbers in their preseason debuts.
Shazier – 9 total tackles, 1 interception
Bush – 10 total tackles, 1 pass that bounced off his helmet
Very identical box score stats as the linebackers came just one tackle apart. The big difference is Shazier finished with an interception, though Bush had what should have been an interception, though the pass bounced off his helmet and would have been negated anyways due to a roughing the passer penalty.
The box score leads us to a conclusion that both linebackers had identical debuts and while that may be true, the film really helps deliver home that conclusion. For months, the Steelers have heard the comparisons between Shazier and Bush, and now the film shows that the two may be more similar in some areas than previously thought.
Both linebacker’s athleticism and skills in coverage were talked about to a great extent prior to their respective drafts. Shazier was deemed one of the most athletic linebackers to ever come out while Bush was perhaps the most athletic linebacker of his class. The Steelers caught a glimpse of both the linebackers’ athleticism right from the get go as Shazier intercepted a pass down the seam while Bush nearly had an interception while covering his man into the flat.
In their first taste of true NFL game action, it seemed that both linebackers were equipped with a magnet that always drew them towards the action. No matter where the ball was headed, Shazier and Bush always found a way to be involved in the end result. Both linebackers flashed incredible intelligence and pursuit speed to sniff out numerous plays and get to the ball carrier.
With their great downhill speed, both Shazier and Bush made a living in the backfield during their first preseason games. Bush was instrumental in blowing up a 4th and short situation, causing a turnover on downs while Shazier was able to blow up a couple run plays of his own. Shazier demonstrates what became the bread and butter of his career on the play above as he blows into the backfield, using his momentum to bounce off a pulling guard before wrapping up the ball carrier for a minimum gain. There were a lot more plays like the one above to come for Shazier and the Steelers can only hope the same will be true with their current first round linebacker.
There are not many reasons to temper expectations after Bush’s first preseason game. To many it was just another exhibition game but for a rookie making his NFL debut for the team that traded up ten spots to get him, it may as well have been Super Bowl Sunday. Bush did not just pass the test, he aced it and while anything can happen between now and the end of this season, there is no taking away from him the raw, natural talent he possesses.
Tomlin was not foolish or over exaggerating when he said that Bush’s performance reminded him of Shazier’s first preseason action. Tomlin saw what everyone else saw – Tomlin, like the rest of us saw ‘it’. The ‘it’ factor has been missing from the Steelers’ defense since Shazier suffered a possible career ending spinal injury in 2017 but now it looks like the team may have rediscovered their ‘it’ factor in the 21-year old Devin Bush and it took just one game to find it.