The Pittsburgh Steelers understood what they were expecting to get out of Devin Bush, even early on, when they made the decision to trade considerable draft resources in order to move up 10 spots in the first round to the 10th-overall position to draft him back in April. They saw in him a difference-maker and a leader.
While he is still growing into those roles, the defense has also clearly grown around him, and him within it. Outside of Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Rams, he had been consistently logging between 80 and 100 percent of the team’s defensive snaps since his first game. Mark Barron was the team’s primary, and dime, linebacker against his former team, but I don’t know if we anticipate that to continue.
One thing the defense anticipates continuing is everybody playing solid and making plays. One of the things Cameron Heyward has talked about when discussing the defense’s struggles in recent years has been that people are not trusting one another and allowing them to simply play within themselves, trusting they will be where they should be and do what they should do.
This unit has that, which is notable considering the number of new faces—Bush, Barron Steven Nelson, Minkah Fitzpatrick—who are playing critical roles within it. The former is a rookie, and the latter just a second-year player who was acquired midseason, but they have had steep learning curves, and have stepped up to the plate.
Said Bush, the defense is “comfortable. Not like the bad comfortable, but comfortable as in we believe in each other. We play as a team”. He added, “I think going out there with that comfort, knowing that the guy next to you is on the same thing you are and trying to get the same job [done] as you. I think going out there and having that around you, it makes everything less stressful”.
Again, literally what we’ve heard from Heyward. The one guy on this defense who remembers what it was like to line up with the likes of Casey Hampton and James Farrior and Ryan Clark, players who were part of the nucleus, the foundation of the defense that allowed others to work within it.
Having individually excellent performers like Fitzpatrick and Bush and T.J. Watt—not to mention Heyward—is critical at this stage of the game to being successful. But equally important in an 11-man unit is for that unit to both understand and trust what everybody else is doing. For the first time in a while, I actually believe them when they say they have that.