Several members of the Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 draft class made their NFL preseason debuts Friday night and against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and on Tuesday head coach Mike Tomlin provided his thoughts on how a few of them performed in that contest during a morning press conference.
Tomlin started with his assessment of the play Friday night of rookie inside linebacker Devin Bush, the team’s first-round draft pick who registered 10 total tackles in 40 total defensive snaps played against the Buccaneers. Not surprisingly, Tomlin liked what he saw Friday night out of the Michigan product.
“I thought it was a very solid performance,” Tomlin said of Bush’s play Friday night. “It was really kind of reminiscent for me of Ryan Shazier’s first home preseason game a number of years ago in terms of production and getting around and making a number of plays.”
In the 2014 home preseason debut of Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier, the team’s first-round draft pick that year, he registered 9 total defensive tackles to go along with an interception and a pass defensed against the Buffalo Bills. He also recorded 2 special team tackles in that contest.
“But he’s going to continue to write his story in terms of growth and development and usefulness and role within this group, not only in 2019, but beyond,” Tomlin said of Bush. “He’s got to roll his sleeves up and go back to work like the rest of them.”
Later during his Tuesday press conference Tomlin was asked to give his evaluation of the play of another one of the team’s draft picks this year, cornerback Justin Layne, who started Friday night because of several players ahead of him on the cornerback depth chart sitting out the preseason opener due to injuries.
“You know, it looked a little big for him at times and, you know, we talked openly about that today,” Tomlin said. “And that’s what I mean when I say that we are going to be really transparent. It’s a big business day for us. But I also told every member of the team not to over-analyze performances. You know, Justin Lane is a very young guy who stepped in the stadium for the first time and had an opportunity to start and start against the NFL starting quarterback because of injury and lack of availability of others, maybe not necessarily because of what he did to get in that spot. Such is life in football and particularly in football this time of year. I’m sure that it’s going to be valuable experience for him, but not necessarily a positive experience for him.”
Layne indeed didn’t have a great showing in the 64 total defensive snaps he played against the Buccaneers Friday night. He seemingly allowed 7 or 8 receptions Friday night and missed an early tackle attempt that ultimately resulted in a touchdown. He was officially credited with 7 total defensive tackles Friday night and given an assist on a special teams tackle.
While recapping Layne’s Friday night play, Tomlin also briefly mentioned the stellar play in that game of another one of the team’s 2019 draft picks, inside linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III, who registered 3 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, 4 quarterback hits and a forced fumble in the 46 total defensive snaps that he was on the field for. The Akron product also intercepted a two-point conversion pass attempt late in the Friday night game as well.
“You also take another young guy like Ulysees, who made a lot of splash plays, but I pointed out to the team those plays were made between play 80 and 89, defensively,” Tomlin said. “So the people that he was on the field with were not the quality of people that Justin Layne was on the field with. So we better not read too much into quality of performance. We all better just keep our heads down and keep working and that’s what the group intends to do, Justin Layne included.”
Could we see a few of the Steelers later-round draft picks that played well Friday night against the Buccaneers such as Gilbert play a little earlier this coming Saturday night when the team plays their second preseason game of 2019 against the Kansas City Chiefs? Based on what Tomlin said on Tuesday, it sounds like there’s a good chance of such things happening.
“There’s a lot of guys playing well, but as I mentioned earlier, against various levels of competition,” Tomlin stated on Tuesday. “And so those that have performed well in the groups that they were running with, maybe this week they get an opportunity to see if they can sustain that level of performance against, you know, stiffer competition. That’s what I mean when I say that we’re going to get more deliberate in terms of the situations that we put people in based on some things that we learned from in-stadium action. Just to see if it’s real, just to challenge people, just to continue to gather information about what’s appropriate in terms of developing a 53 [man roster].”