Pittsburgh Steelers rookie inside linebacker Devin Bush made a few more splash plays during the teams Sunday night road win over the Los Angeles Chargers and with six games under his belt the Michigan product certainly seems to have a shot at winning the annual Defensive Rookie of the Year award for 2019. On Tuesday, a few of the Steelers coaches were asked to talk about Bush’s play and development with the bye week now on tap.
“He is still learning, Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler said of Bush on Tuesday. “He still has to learn because there are several different techniques that we are teaching and trying to use. It is kind of running together for him a little bit. Some of it is and some of it is not. He has a lot of speed. He is going to make plays for us, and he has been doing it for us. He was aware enough, which is the good thing, to pick up that backwards throw. Philip Rivers is running at that thing, you know that thing is live. He got on that and took it to the end zone, so it was a big thing for us.”
Bush had the presence to not assume that the early first quarter pass from Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to running back Melvin Gordon was an incomplete pass and it paid off for him and the Steelers defense. Bush has the wherewithal to scoop up the live lateraled football and fought to get in the end zone for a touchdown to give the Steelers an early 7-0 lead.
Later in the first quarter, Bush intercepted a tipped pass from Rivers and that takeaway ultimately led to the Steelers taking a 14-0 lead over the Chargers with 4:29 left in the first quarter. In doing so, Bush became the first NFL rookie with a fumble-return touchdown and an interception in the same game since 2017 when Chicago Bears safety Eddie Jackson last accomplished the feat. He was the first Steelers rookie to accomplish that feat since cornerback Delton Hall did it in 1987 against the San Francisco 49ers.
Steelers linebackers coach Jerry Olsavsky was asked Tuesday about Bush’s play so far during the rookie’s first six games of his NFL career and what has impressed him the most.
“It’s hard because he impresses me every day with his preparation and just being ready and being in shape physically,” Olsavsky said. “All the little things he crosses. He crossed those a long time ago. So, I’m never surprised when he makes a play or when he does something.”
Olsavsky, however, wasn’t happy to see the Steelers rookie linebacker get called for taunting Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen with 2:52 left in the third quarter of the Sunday night game and him have an unnecessary neutral zone infraction penalty called on him in the team’s Week 5 home loss to the Baltimore Ravens. By the way, Bush’s three penalties on the season ties him for the team lead with tackle Alejandro Villanueva entering the bye week.
“The things that surprise me are like the penalties because he’s so intelligent and he knows the game so well that I don’t know why he does that,” Olsavsky said Tuesday. “He’s so well rounded. He’s such a good player, and he takes everything I say and he’s like, “oh yeah, I’ll put that in the work,” and that’s what he does. He had a small play on a lineman where he knocked the guy down and it’s like, “see, you can do it.” I think when you scout a guy and you say, “wow, I think this guy can be really good,” he’s everything we expected, but the little things that he does, how he keeps the team going and some leadership stuff and bouncing back from an ankle and being on the road and stuff like that. Those are little things that you don’t usually see out of a rookie. I put it to just his family and stuff like that, how he was brought up.”
So, what’s the next step for Bush during the second half of his rookie season?
“He’s just going up the next step, and that’s what I told him,” Olsavsky said Tuesday. “I said I’m not surprised that he’s made plays. I don’t subscribe to the idea that somebody could only make a fumble recovery and a touchdown and an interception in one game. Every series you go out there; you can make a play. It could be a great play. That’s when I get mad because I don’t want to limit him in any way.
“I never tried to limit Ryan [Shazier]. I’m not going to try and limit Devin [Bush] because they’re great players, and they’re great people. So, who’s to say I can’t make a play every drive I go out there. He makes some mistakes, but you get tired and you’re young and things happen. That’s how football is, and just the fact that you keep coming back after all those plays, is what’s hard to do, but that’s what he’s learning, and he’ll get there.”
Bush is indeed getting there and through six games he leads the Steelers in tackles (52) and has had a hand in six of their 15 takeaways, with an NFL-leading four fumble recoveries. He’s tenth overall in the NFL in total tackles entering Week 7 and leads all rookies in that stat.
Assuming he stays healthy, Bush will likely need to out-duel fellow defensive rookies Brian Burns and Nick Bosa to win the annual Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Bush will likely need to make a few more turnover splash plays like he did this past Sunday night to do that as both Burns and Bosa are both likely to register more sacks than the Steelers inside linebacker in 2019.
The last Steelers player to win the annual Defensive Rookie of the Year award was inside linebacker Kendrell Bell in 2001. In case you’re curious, Bell registered 36 total tackles, four sacks and a pass defensed in his first six games in the NFL. Additionally, Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier registered 26 total tackles and one defensed pass in his first six games of his NFL career.