Pittsburgh Steelers rookie inside linebacker Devin Bush played 53 snaps in the season opener, or 76 percent of the team’s defensive snaps, racking up 11 tackles in the process. For the next seven weeks, he never dipped below 89 percent of the team’s snaps, other than the week immediately afterward.
Until last week, when he logged only 34 snaps, and then 54 snaps (77 percent of the total), in the Steelers’ two games against the Los Angeles Rams and the Cleveland Browns. He did obviously see more time in the second game than in the first. But why was his snap count down, anyway? Was it because of the short week?
Keith Butler, the team’s defensive coordinator, was asked about the first-round pick’s dip in playing time over the course of the past two games during his media availability on Thursday, questioned as to whether or not it was about his work in coverage as an inexperienced player.
“It wasn’t a coverage issue at all”, he told the reporters, via transcript. “We wanted to try and get Mark Barron on the field a little bit and play some coverage. We have a couple different personnel groups we use. Mark has been healthy for us. We are using him a little bit more. We use all of them, we use all three of them in Vince [Williams] and Devin. Nothing against him. He does a good job for us”.
Outside of the games Williams missed due to injury, Barron saw a season-high 92 percent of the defensive snaps in the game against the Rams, his former team, logging 69 total snaps. The following week, he still logged 47 snaps, or two thirds of the total snaps. That is actually fewer snaps than Bush in that game, but also a larger workload than he had been getting.
Barron, 30, was signed in the offseason as an unrestricted free agent to a two-year, $12 million contract, brought in before the Steelers, obviously, knew that they would have a chance at taking Bush, whom they had to trade up 10 spots in the first round to get.
On the season, the veteran has racked up 51 tackles with an interception, a sack, and a fumble recovery, but those raw statistical figures don’t go into the nuances of his performance. Pro Football Reference credits him with five missed tackles, and allowing a 72 percent catch rate when targeted in coverage for 333 yards and two touchdowns. And let’s not forget penalties.
That said, Bush has had some major struggles in coverage, at least early on in his rookie season, though he seems to have leveled off somewhat as the year has gone on. He is learning each and every week. And it’s not as though he isn’t playing. He still had six tackles against the Browns, including a big one for a loss, his fifth tackle for loss on the season.