Throughout the season follow each game I will be taking a look at the rookies and how they fared each week. This will consist of thoughts such as the positive and negatives from that game, areas to watch or work on and clips to support what I’m sharing. Hopefully, this will shed some insight on some things you may or may not have seen.
Regular Season Week 3
Devin Bush/ILB – Bush has a lot on his plate right now and at times it shows. There are going to be struggles each week in his rookie year and the hope is there will be signs of improvement each week. He still looks confused at times in pass coverage. If you just look at the box score it looks like he had an impressive game. Eleven tackles and 2 fumble recoveries stands out. The fumble recoveries show good awareness and the ability to be around the ball.
As Alex pointed out, his tackling has been better, but there needs to be context in where he’s making tackles. He was credited with 8 tackles on running plays vs San Francisco but the average gain on those tackles was 5.13 yards. He’s not making plays at or near the line of scrimmage and there looks to be reasons why this is happening.
After watching the game again, his read and reaction to the play is improving but what he does at the point of attack is not effective. He’s not using his hands consistently when taking on blockers allowing them to get into his body and drive him out of the play. Also, he’s not attacking the blockers or the gaps. He reads the play, moves into position and then will slow down or even back up in some situations. More aggressiveness at the point of attack may make a big difference.
Here’s a first quarter running play. He makes a good read, starts to get downhill and then retreats at the blocker. He gets his hands up but there’s no punch to it. If he continues to attack he’ll likely meet the OL in the backfield and has a much better chance of disrupting the play.
In this third quarter play, he makes another good read and shows a good punch knocking George Kittle off balance. He doesn’t attack toward the ball carrier, which gives Kittle time to recover, and then gets blocked out of the play.
Now in the fourth quarter, he’s a tad slow on this read but recovers with his speed. He hesitates at the hole and the blocker, who fell down, gets a piece of him to disrupt him enough to slide off the tackle. With a good angle and more speed he should be burying that RB.
It’s coming together for Bush. Next step is finishing the play near the LOS. Remember, he is a rookie. He’ll continue to grow and get better.
Diontae Johnson/WR – Starting for the first time in his young career Johnson garnered 6 targets, 3 receptions and his first touchdown. He easily beat backup defensive back Jason Verrett up the left sideline. On his other two receptions he showed good elusiveness to make a defender miss on each play. He was also given the ball on and end around that was not blocked particularly well but was able to get 6 yards before getting out of bounds.
He did short arm a ball on a slant route in the first quarter which looked like an executive decision because he would likely have gotten blown up. He also showed good alignment awareness trying to move Jaylen Samuels up to the line of scrimmage before the snap. He didn’t move and the Steelers were called for illegal formation.
Justin Layne/CB – Fresh up from the inactive list, Layne made his NFL debut. He got to be the gunner on two punt cover plays, one on each side of the field. He got down there quick on the second rep but was blocked just as the returner caught the ball and twisted down to the ground.
Benny Snell Jr/RB – Snell surprising got more touches that Samuels with 3 carries to zero. He only got six yards on those runs but the positive is he got 5 of those yards after contact. He may have had a cut back lane that he missed on his third carry.
On special teams, he was in on 70% of the snaps, recorded a tackle on punt coverage and displayed good lane integrity on another to force the returner back in side. On the negative side, he whiffed on a kick return block.
Zach Gentry/TE – Gentry was another rookie making his debut after spending the first two weeks on the practice squad. Good thing too since Vance McDonald went down with an injury.
He was used on 12 personnel initially with mixed results as a blocker on a couple opportunities. He got a chance to run a few routes as well to the flat as well as the deep out and curl areas. I found it interesting on the final drive that he was the only tight end in the game leaving Xavier Grimble on the bench.
Ulysses Gilbert III/ILB – Gilbert was in on 85% of the special team’s plays and had a chance at tackle near the sideline on a punt return. He broke down in front of the returner and should have used the sideline to his advantage. However, the returner juked to the sideline, Gilbert bit, and the returner went to the inside. I thought he may have tripped him up but didn’t get credit for any tackles.
Devlin Hodges/QB – Active for the first time in his career as Mason Rudolph’s backup but did not log a snap.
Inactive for Week 1 -Isaiah Buggs/DL, Fred Johnson/OG
Practice Squad – Derwin Gray/OG