During training camp, Mike Tomlin quipped they didn’t draft Devin Bush to sit. And that’ll prove true Sunday night.
Almost. I mean, mostly true.
It’s fair to say Tomlin has pulled back the reigns a bit in his Tuesday press conference, downplaying Bush’s role against the New England Patriots. That, coupled with Bush behind Mark Barron in the always-meaningless depth chart, a form with the authority of a Please Don’t Take The Shampoo sign in your hotel room, has some fans worried about Bush’s playing time in 2019.
Let’s be clear about one thing. Bush is going to play this year. A lot. Very soon, I expect him to be “the guy” at ILB, used in an every down role.
Maybe just not for Sunday night.
Honestly, that’s the right idea.
Bush was drafted for his speed and athleticism. But that alone isn’t how you beat the patriots. This is a Steelers’ defense, a worse version of it in 2018, that won with Vince Williams playing 95% of the snaps. The key to defeating Tom Brady? Communication. Handling your business. Getting the defense on the same page, especially in an opener where being on the same page can be tricky. Look no further than when the Steelers traveled to New England in the 2015 opener. It was a struggle just getting 11 guys on the field and actually, you know, covering people. Remember what Gronk did to them?
Cover Gronkowski? Crazy gameplan, I know. Steelers forgot to implement it that night.
That’s not to say Bush is a poor communicator. By all accounts, he’s done a good job. But there’s a line to walk here. Put your players in position to succeed. Pitting Bush against Tom Brady, literally the greatest of all-time, is a difficult spot.
Bush is the best athlete at ILB. No question. He’s the Ferrari of the room. But his car doesn’t come with a GPS system. It’s fast but doesn’t always know where it’s going. Vince Williams is the Toyota Camry with built-in navigation. And in a way, that can make him – and the rest of the defense – play faster. He can defend tempo, personnel shifts, motions, hard counts, and checks at the line of scrimmage. Mark Barron, even though he’s new to this scheme, can do similar.
After last year’s win, Tomlin immediately pivoted to that as being a key factor.
“I can’t say enough about Vince Williams in what he was able to do in terms of being a central communicator throughout the game,” he said. “It allowed us to settle in and match some of the pace things they do and things they do very well. I thought communication was an element of that performance.”
Maybe Williams will again be in that role. Maybe Barron gets the nod instead, a blend of athleticism and experience though Tomlin has called him “mute,” so maybe he’s not the ideal option. Either way, there’s a clear advantage to putting less on Bush’s plate. If he struggles to communicate, the whole defense struggles, and you have no chance to start the year 1-0.