This was an interesting season for the defensive line, which saw three players end up on the Reserve/Injured List, including Lavon Hooks if you go back to training camp, for the Pittsburgh Steelers. They suffered enough injuries that at a certain point they just decided to finish up the year with five defensive linemen. I don’t ever recall a time in which the team did that.
This year, that fifth defensive lineman, at least in the wake of Stephon Tuitt’s injury in Week Five, was rookie sixth-round pick Isaiah Buggs, a rotational player along the front of the Alabama Crimson Tide. He did well as a pass rusher in 2017, and improved his running game in 2018, but it’s hard to be drafted very high when you’re not a starter, even at an elite program.
He didn’t exactly have a big impact, registering a whopping three tackles on the season on 75 total defensive snaps played, but within those snaps, and those few plays in which he was able to get on the stat sheet, see saw advancement, progression, and even some quality play.
“There’s definitely been some ups and downs in this rookie season, but I feel like I learned a lot from the older guys, just getting in and learning the system first year”, he told Jacob Klinger of PennLive following the completion of the 2019 season, paying especial mention to, of course, Cameron Heyward. He is the leader of the defense, after all.
“I think it was a successful year as far as just learning what to do and just getting in the league system”, he would add in self-assessment. “So I think my rookie season was pretty good”.
What sort of role he might serve in 2020 is really yet to be determined. He was only afforded a helmet for most games this season because Tuitt was injured, and of course the latter will return in 2020. But Javon Hargrave is likely to leave in free agency. If he does, however, the Steelers will likely look to replace him in free agency with a cheaper, less versatile option, who will dress.
Likely, he figures to compete with Daniel McCullers for the number five defensive lineman role. McCullers didn’t play much this year, either, only seeing double-digit snaps in just five games, and finishing the season with just eight tackles and one pass defensed, the second in his career. But in order to dress, Buggs may have to prove that he is capable of handling some nose snaps, the way L.T. Walton did—at least for one year.