The Pittsburgh Steelers have one of the richest traditions at linebackers in NFL history, especially going back to the 1970s, when they had Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, and Andy Russell all on the field at the same time together.
They have had some great pairings since then, as well, perhaps the best being that of the late 2000s when they had James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley at outside linebacker, with James Farrior, Larry Foote, and then Lawrence Timmons lined up inside.
The Steelers’ current defense is doing its best to rival that group, starting off well with T.J. Watt at the top, who is making a run at Defensive Player of the Year. They are hoping to retain Bud Dupree for the other outside linebacker spot. Vince Williams is a savvy veteran in the middle.
Then there is the new face, Devin Bush, selected at the 10 spot in the 2019 NFL Draft. They traded up to get him, something Mike Tomlin had never done before in the first round. He has both that and the Steelers’ long tradition at the position on his shoulders, including his predecessor, Ryan Shazier, who is still around the team.
“A lot of people think that’s pressure, but actually it makes it easier, if you think about it”, he told his hosts on Speak for Yourself yesterday about stepping into an organization known for his position and with so many expectations lined up for him. “I’m going to a linebacker team, and they’re gonna focus on linebackers, so all I’ve gotta do is do my job. That’s all I gotta do”.
Bush was more or less a plug-and-play starter for the Steelers defense last year, though he didn’t necessarily accumulate starter snaps in every game. He finished the year with 109 tackles, a sack, two interceptions, four passes defensed, a forced fumble, and four fumble recoveries, so he is certainly not off to a bad start.
In terms of play-to-play impact, however, the team still expects to see a lot more growth out of him. They believe he is a first-team All-Pro sort of talent, and it’s just a matter of him putting it all together play in and play out before they start to see that on a regular basis.
There’s no doubt that the flashed his talent often enough during his rookie season. But he still played like a rookie at times, especially in elements of the game containing a heightened level of nuance. His work in zone coverage especially and his responsibilities as a communicator will be a priority this offseason as he heads into year two.